Originally created 09/15/99

Microsoft makes its move into e-commerce



SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft Corp. on Monday unveiled details of its Windows DNA 2000 software, putting its sizable influence behind an effort to allow developers to write software that can help companies more easily exchange data and conduct electronic commerce.

Microsoft will begin shipping its new tools this year that will allow developers to stitch together an array of Web services, applications and devices anywhere around the world, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer told a gathering of Web programmers.

"This will provide the extensibility for a Web site to 'talk' to another Web site," Ballmer said. "You will be able to program the Web."

The strategy marks a significant shift away from Microsoft's focus on personal computers that are run by its Windows operating system.

While working to maintain Windows' dominance, the Redmond, Wash.-based company is hoping to carve out a significant share of the growing e-commerce market by offering software that allows devices such as handheld personal computers, cable set-top boxes and even cellular phones to communicate with one another.

The moves come as competitors such as Sun Microsystems are unveiling products that bypass Windows in favor of the Internet.

The moves by Microsoft are also notable because they show the company is moving more firmly to embrace a relatively new technology called extensible markup language, or XML.

XML is a way to tag electronic information with identifying codes so that businesses can exchange information without worrying about the need to reformat data so that it can be retrieved and viewed by others.

For example, a business can easily send orders to a parts supplier across the Web without paying big consulting fees to an outside company to set up an electronic network necessary to translate the information.

Microsoft's products likely won't become available until the middle of next year, while smaller competitors have had similar offerings on the market for months, said Martin Marshall, director of the analytical firm Zona Research.

"But Microsoft is the 12,000-pound gorilla that realizes this is the way that applications will communicate with each other across the Internet in a very big future," he said.

Microsoft hopes to capitalize on XML by providing what it calls "friction-free" software that would keep server networks from suffering critical failures and data loss -- a problem that vexes Web surfers looking to buy or sell products during busy periods.

The company also hopes to provide a variety of different services to e-commerce companies. One such program, called Passport, would authenticate a customer's identity and credit-card information to process payments.