BizTalk: Not Synonymous with XML
Despite the fact that the Worldwide Web Consortium (W3C, www.w3.org), the organization that develops Internet standards, has yet to release an XML schema, Microsoft Corp. is plowing ahead with its own framework for XML, called BizTalk.
BizTalk.org, the Microsoft-developed Web site that houses the BizTalk XML framework specifications and reference materials, has garnered the support of ERP vendors Baan Co. (www.baan.com), SAP AG (www.sap.com) and PeopleSoft Inc. (www.peoplesoft.com). Touting itself as an XML repository, BizTalk.org is designed to allow vendors to obtain the BizTalk schema and then build these specifications into their own products -- enabling communication between parties using the BizTalk framework.
According to Benoit Lheureux, director of application integration and middleware strategies at GartnerGroup (www.gartner.com), one of the reasons Microsoft has pushed forward to develop an XML framework in the business-to-business space is because it could excel in that arena. "Microsoft is good in the space of opportunistic-type products," Lheureux says. He continues that even though the key concepts of the BizTalk framework are proprietary, "I don’t think anyone will be able to own it. XML can’t be owned per se."
But the seemingly proprietary effort by Microsoft has not gone undisputed. Another group, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS, www.oasis-open.org) has retorted with XML.org, a repository for XML schemas and implementation specifications. XML.org and the OASIS effort have been backed by many vendors, including IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp., Novell Inc. and eventually Microsoft as well.
Some members of BizTalk.org and OASIS are also members of the W3C's XML Schema Working Group. W3C and its supporters are working towards establishing an XML schema that any XML processor can read, making e-commerce interchange easier across vertical markets.
Although Microsoft's BizTalk server is due out shortly after the release of Windows 2000, company officials say it will comply with the W3C’s standards and provide tools and add-ons to remain compliant with the differences between BizTalk’s XML framework and the W3C’s XML specifications. Microsoft has "always been 100 percent committed to going in the direction of the W3C," says Marcus Schmidt, industry manager at Microsoft.
That did not seem to be the case with OASIS at the beginning. When originally asked to join the OASIS effort, Microsoft declined the invitation. A few days later, Microsoft agreed to join the effort as a member -- not as a founder. Microsoft’s move to support OASIS got much less press coverage than the company’s decision not to join. Schmidt wants to get the record straight: "Microsoft has joined the OASIS effort and we are working with them."
Microsoft’s decision to back OASIS is viewed by some as a way to repair the damage it suffered from bad press. "Microsoft was hurt by the PR backlash," Lheureux says. "Clearly Microsoft had nothing to lose, the fee was a drop in the bucket and it was a win-win situation for them. They were wise to join the OASIS effort," he says.
While Microsoft says they will comply with the W3C’s standards and go along with the OASIS effort, industry insiders are waiting to see if they actually will. Lheureux points out that since there are no W3C standards yet, it's difficult to decipher if Microsoft is diverging from the direction in which the standards are headed. To stem this type of skepticism, Microsoft announced that if BizTalk does diverge from W3C standards it will develop tools that will align BizTalk with those standards as they emerge. Lheureux, for one, is not convinced: "I don’t see them hurrying about that."