Microsoft releases InfoCard beta with dev bundle

Microsoft released on Monday its first beta versions of three developer technologies that will underlie the development platform for its forthcoming Longhorn Windows update.

Included in the Beta 1 Release Candidate package are Microsoft's new presentation subsystem, code named Avalon; its Web services-based communication subsystem, code named Indigo; and a new technology for end-user identity management called InfoCard. The beta software is available on Microsoft's Web site.

Microsoft has been speaking with developers for years about Indigo and Avalon, but InfoCard is a newer technology that developed more stealthily. Similar to Microsoft's floundering Passport identification system, InfoCard is an attempt to solve the problem of proliferating digital services requiring users to log in. Unlike the proprietary Passport, however, InfoCard is based on the developing WS-* stack of interoperability standards that Microsoft played a major role in drafting. While supported by a number of major vendors, the WS-* standards face competition in some areas from the Liberty Alliance, which Microsoft has staunchly resisted joining.

Microsoft envisions InfoCards as a way for consumers to manage their digital identities through Windows, allowing them to choose which online applications and services will be granted access to their identity information without requiring that information to be re-entered individually at each Web site. For example, a user ordering a book at an online store could allow InfoCard to transmit her credit card and shipping address to the bookseller.

Also unlike Passport, InfoCard won't require developers to craft their applications and services around Microsoft's technology. InfoCard's aim is to allow any service compliant with the relevant WS-* specifications to interoperate with InfoCard, according to Michael Stephenson, Microsoft's director of product management for Windows Server.

Avalon and Indigo are part of Microsoft's WinFX programming model, the next evolution of its .Net Framework. WinFX is part of Microsoft's push toward a "managed code" model, in which a CLR (common language runtime) handles some software execution tasks such as memory management and security checks. Microsoft hopes that managed code will make its easier for developers to build Windows applications, while also alleviating problems like memory leaks and buffer overruns.

WinFX is intended as the development foundation for Longhorn, due in 2006, but Microsoft is also making the technology available on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Microsoft has previously offered pre-beta "technology previews" of Indigo and Avalon. Feedback from those tests has been incorporated into the new beta versions, the company said. Monday's release adds to Indigo Microsoft's PeerChannel technology for enabling peer-to-peer application features. New in Avalon is video support, enabling developers to integrate audio and video in an application's interface.

Also new is Metro, a technology Microsoft first discussed at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference in April. The document format has been dubbed a PDF (Portable Document Format) killer by analysts who see Microsoft taking aim at Adobe Systems' grip on the desktop document-management market. Metro will enable document printing and sharing; Microsoft hopes developers will adopt the technology and use it to load Metro content into their applications.

Microsoft said Beta 1 Release Candidate is a feature-complete release, and that applications developed using it will be compatible with Beta 1, due out in several months. The company plans to release its final versions of Avalon and Indigo concurrently with Longhorn.

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