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Ina Fried

Staff Writer, CNET

SAN FRANCISCO–Aiming to get developers behind its approach to Web services, Microsoft plans in March to offer a first look at the company’s forthcoming Indigo technology.

The company will release a pre-beta version, known as a “community technology preview” of Indigo–a type of release Microsoft has done with increased frequency in recent months.

Microsoft said on Monday that it will release an updated preview of Avalon, the software giant’s new presentation engine. Taken together with an update to Microsoft’s Visual Studio programming tools, the two previews will give developers a good look at WinFX, Microsoft’s next-generation programming model.

Speaking to a crowd of developers, Senior Vice President Eric Rudder addressed rumors that the preview of the Indigo Web services architecture might not make the March deadline. He hinted that if Indigo doesn’t make the target, it will be close.

“Our plan is to deliver that in March–even if it is March 38th or March 43rd, we will deliver it in March,” Rudder said at the VSLive conference here.

Indigo was originally slated to be one of the key enhancements that would come with Longhorn–the next major release of Windows. However, Microsoft changed plans last August, announcing that Indigo and Avalon would be released separately from Windows and would be available as optional add-ons to Longhorn and the current Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 operating systems.

Microsoft said it plans to phase Indigo into many existing products.

“The long-term bet really is ‘Web services everywhere,'” Rudder said.

For example, the next release of BizTalk Server, in 2006, will support Indigo via add-ons, while a subsequent version will use Indigo natively. Rudder stressed that Web services will augment, rather than replace, BizTalk.

“The need for BizTalk won’t go away,” Rudder said, saying the program will evolve to help orchestrate all of the various Web services.

Rudder also made it clear that while Indigo is Microsoft’s preferred shade for Web services, it will easily interoperate with older Microsoft technologies as well as code from rivals such as BEA Systems. Rudder said efforts from IBM, BEA and others are keeping each company’s technology compatible.

“We’ve had a good deal of success keeping the industry together around evolving the Web services standard,” Rudder said.