Indigo is Microsoft's primary Web services color

The head of Microsoft's Web services effort says the software maker's Indigo communications system will serve as the glue that holds together various technology layers. Microsoft offered some early details of the initiative at its Professional Developers Conference this week.

LOS ANGELES -- Part of the onslaught of product information coming from Microsoft this week regarding the next generation of Windows relates to the future of Web services and a component referred to as "Indigo."

Indigo is the communications subsystem, and a core component of the next Windows release, code-named Longhorn. The other two subsystems are Avalon, which is the interface, and WinFS, the file system. Indigo is essentially a layer that will connect systems that can be linked today only with some difficulty.

Enterprise developers today can write applications using Web services, J2EE, CORBA, or DCOM, for example. But each can be limiting because developers have to know what's on both ends of the equation, said Steve VanRoekel, Microsoft's director of Web services.

What Indigo will do is unify those approaches by sending messages back and forth, above the various protocols, VanRoekel said at this week's Professional Developers Conference.

Some customers expressed interest in the technology but weren't quite sure of its broad ramifications. "I didn't really get what characterizes Indigo, and I'd like to know more," said Peter Osbourne, director of advanced technology at Dollar Rent A Car, in Tulsa, Okla.

Microsoft should have plenty of time to explain Indigo to its customers, since it probably won't be available for several years. There are no official availability dates on Longhorn, though it's expected to ship sometime in late 2005 or 2006.

This sneak peek at Longhorn, and Indigo, offered at the conference, was helpful for companies that want to see where they will be headed in terms of their enterprise computing investments.

VanRoekel said that he generally expects security to be the No. 1 concern when companies are asked to cite their biggest grievances, but lately more customers cite a lack of application integration.

The Indigo communication infrastructure, which is built on the .NET framework, will also provide security. It will be supported on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003, the company said.

With Indigo, Microsoft is moving from an object-oriented programming interface to a service-oriented interface -- service being defined as a program that other programs interact with using messages. Using this method, developers don't need to know the underlying object models, systems or protocols of the software being integrated, Microsoft said.

However, Microsoft said Indigo won't replace ASP.NET Web services. Rather, ASP.NET services will interoperate with clients and services built on Indigo. That's good news for Osbourne, who has ASP code and is now thinking about the best way to keep everything on the same level.

Indigo will also support the latest Web services standards, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP).

There were some non-developers at PDC who were encouraged by the Longhorn design, but who kept their reserve about the technology, since it's still several years out.

One systems analyst from a large British retailer said that Longhorn will be great if Microsoft really delivers on all of its plans. "Of course, they are saying it's the biggest thing since Windows 95, but that took three years to stabilize, so I hope it doesn't end up being like Windows 95," said the systems analyst, who declined to give his name.

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