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The acceptance of new abstract concepts can sometimes be harmful to entrenched philosophical (and marketing) positions. Microsoft's announcement this week that it is to bolster the business process management (BPM) software market is an admission that there are parts of the world which are not wholly Microsoft.

The nature of BPM is that it has to include pretty much everything an organisation does or it won't work. So, if it wants to play seriously in the BPM market, Microsoft has no choice - it has to accept the world beyond .NET, its flagship infrastructure framework - and it says as much.

"BPM is not about a pure Microsoft environment. With this announcement we are really recognising that customers have a variety of platforms," says Gavin King, product and solutions marketing manager for BPM at Microsoft UK.

The announcement, at Gartner's Business Process Management Summit in San Diego, comes in two parts. Part one outlines Microsoft's strategy to get leading BPM software developers onside with the formation of the Business Process Alliance (BPA) and part two unveils a raft of 'enhancements' to .NET and extended support for Business Process Execution Language (BPEL).

With the BPA, Microsoft has enlisted the top BPM software developers to cover as many bases as possible. The first ten members of the BPA are: AmberPoint, Ascentn, IDS Scheer, Fair Isaac, Global360, InRule, Metastorm, PNMsoft, RuleBurst and SourceCode Technology Holdings. The backgrounds of several of these companies reinforce the all-embracing nature of BPM.

Ed Horst, VP of marketing product strategy at AmberPoint, says the company's origins were in Java-based environments but, since it began working with Microsoft in 2002, it has straddled the Java and .NET worlds - and seen a change in Microsoft's attitude. "When we first worked with Microsoft in 2002-3 they were very much into an 'us and them' approach - either .NET or Java. They were resistant to talking about Java in case studies even though many of our customers have both. But this has changed - now Microsoft seems quite happy to talk about Java."

Horst says that AmberPoint, which specialises in run-time governance of SOA applications, expects to gain significantly from the BPA. "The real win for us is closer links with Biztalk. Previously it was just a black box to us - but now we can work at the technical level with Microsoft and see what happens inside. And Microsoft gets a well integrated run-time product."

Other BPA members also expect to benefit from Microsoft's change of view. Metastorm, the BPM tool developer sees its inclusion as backing its approach to BPM and is bullish about the product enhancements Microsoft announced. "With BPA what you are seeing from Microsoft is the recognition of a set of companies that offer BPM solutions which go beyond the Microsoft platform. This is supported by the enhancements it is making to .NET 3 and the extended support for Business Process Execution Language(BPEL)," says Greg Carter, chief technical officer at Metastorm.

According to King of Microsoft, the .NET 3 enhancements will be available during March along with BPEL 1.1 support. Support for BPEL 2.0 is expected later this summer.

More details about the Alliance can be found here. ®

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