Last month we discussed some integrated development environment (IDE) vendors of Web services. We looked briefly at products from IBM, Microsoft, Software AG, HP and Sun, with links to resources for more detail. This month we will discuss the Microsoft IDE approach further.

Microsoft, IBM and Ariba jointly submitted initial Web services specifications to the W3C for consideration in September 2000. Microsoft is using its .NET initiative (called dot Net) to transform the company ­ moving its software product functionality to the Internet.

Microsoft's .NET is designed from the ground up to be an XML Web services development and delivery environment. It is a software platform to build .NET applications and comprises a set of programmable Web services. It defines a programming model and provides tools to build and integrate Web services. This enables developers and users to interact with a wide range of smart devices via the Internet or intranet.

Figure 1 illustrates the Microsoft .NET Framework. All .NET languages are built on a Common Language Specification. While designed specifically to support the .NET versions of Visual Basic, C++, C# and JScript, .NET also supports other languages that can be modified to this specification. These include Perl, Python, COBOL, Eiffel, Pascal, Fortran, SmallTalk, Java, RPG, Ada, APL, J# and others. Work is currently underway by numerous third parties to incorporate many of these languages into .NET. The .NET Framework is designed to unify programming models to enable cross-language integration.


Figure 1: The Microsoft .NET Framework [Source: Microsoft]

The Microsoft Active Server Page (ASP) technology has been enhanced as ASP.NET and is designed to allow the easy development of Web services and Web forms (see Figure 1). The development of Windows forms has also been improved with .NET, and ADO.NET provides full support for data and XML. Visual Studio.NET supports and integrates all of these development environments, automating many development tasks that previously required manual integration.

Each of the languages at the top of Figure 1 is supported by Visual Studio.NET, which is an enhanced IDE. The other languages discussed earlier can also be added to Visual Studio.NET. Each language compiles to a single intermediate language: called MSIL (Microsoft Intermediate Language), shown in Figure 2. A just-in-time (JIT) compiler for each hardware platform converts MSIL code to machine language for the target platform.


Figure 2: Microsoft Intermediate Language .NET Portability [Source: Microsoft]

The MSIL concept in Figure 2 is similar to that used by Sun. Java can execute interpretatively in a Java Virtual Machine on any hardware platform, or instead JIT compilation is used to convert Java code to machine-code for higher performance execution. The Microsoft approach will also enable any language to be portable across hardware platforms similar to Java, for execution in a .NET environment that – in time – is itself also clearly intended to be able to run on any platform. Windows extends from 32-bit desktops and servers up to 64-bit servers. It also extends down to PDAs with Windows CE and Pocket PC 2002, and also to embedded platforms. The strategy behind Visual Studio.NET is to enable applications to be developed within Windows for later execution in a .NET environment on any platform. This is a key component of Microsoft's strategy for Web services.

Visual Studio.NET has been designed to largely automate much of the development of Web services using its major languages: Visual Basic.NET, C++.NET and C#.NET. For example, function calls in existing code modules can be automatically converted by Visual Studio.NET to SOAP messages. The simple addition of a WebMethod statement in front of a function will convert that function automatically to a Web Service. With naming of the Web service, WSDL specification can be generated automatically.

The ability of Visual Studio.NET to convert existing applications to Web services in a highly automated way offers an easy transition path for millions of developers throughout the world. With the release of this product in February 2002, Microsoft sees that its future business opportunities lie in making the transition to XML and Web services as painless as possible.

Visit http://www.microsoft.com/net/ for articles, online training and web seminars on all aspects of .NET. Microsoft also offers a free DVD containing an evaluation version of Visual Studio.NET, with 2GB of .NET code samples.

Next month we will discuss IBM's IDE approach for Web services development.

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