Microsoft targets developers

Microsoft has released new versions of Visual Studio and SQL Server and plans to release an updated BizTalk Server early next year. The releases are major upgrades to the products and could give the company renewed strength with organizations that need to tie older systems together.

The three products -- SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006 -- are more tightly integrated than they have been, according to the company.

Steve Martin, director of Microsoft's Connected Systems Division, said the new releases will make the company more competitive against integration solutions that agencies and companies develop internally.

Martin said Microsoft is broadly aiming the product suite across the enterprise market, in which the federal government is a significant part.

Peter O'Kelly, a senior analyst at the Burton Group, said all three products have substantial enhancements.

SQL Server 2005, the latest version of Microsoft's database management system, features much stronger integration and reporting services, he said. In addition, database administrators can use Microsoft's .NET architecture to accomplish tasks that in the past would have required commands written in a Transaction SQL instruction set.

"That's a really big deal," O'Kelly said. "It means, for instance, that I can develop a chunk of code and drag and drop it across any tier" of the database.

The upgraded Visual Studio, a software development platform, comes with new and improved development tools that cut the amount of code developers need to write by up to 70 percent, O'Kelly said. It also supports 64-bit processors, improving performance and scalability.

"BizTalk is not at the same level in market momentum, but for its domain, it's a very strong product," he added. BizTalk Server is an integration server, allowing various applications within an enterprise architecture to interact with one another. A beta release of the new version is now available.

BizTalk has a natural fit in criminal justice organizations, Martin said, where information about a case needs to flow from one system to another and to court employees. It also fits into supply chain management, he added. It can aggregate information from multiple sources and update many systems at once when the status of something, such as a court case, changes.

"As the product continues to mature, we can take on more complex scenarios," he said.

Although government agencies are interested in commercial products, many still develop software internally, said C. David Moye, enterprise architect and director of development at CC Intelligent Solutions, a Microsoft partner working with Defense Department clients.

"I think the tide is turning," he said. "They used to do [commercial products], but more and more custom development is the way organizations are going. This is my own observation, but the [commercial- and government-off-the-shelf products] that they've done tend to have clunky interfaces and be very stovepiped."

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