April 8, 2002 6:35 AM PDT

Microsoft revamps spec for Web searches

Microsoft is revising a data access specification that will allow companies to more easily search databases on the Web.

The software kingpin on Monday plans to announce a new version of XML for Analysis, a specification intended to offer better support for data mining and Web services applications. To help with the effort, Microsoft also is to announce that SAS Institute, which specializes in data mining technology, has joined the project.

Microsoft, along with Hyperion Solutions, a specialty company focused on data analysis software, created XML for Analysis last year. The specification uses the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a technology used in Web services, to let Web browser-based programs access back-end data sources for data analysis.

The specification allows companies to build online analytical processing (OLAP) and data mining applications that work over the Web. OLAP and data mining are similar operations that entail searching databases for information to compile reports, such as how products are selling in a particular region or on a given date, and for analyzing business data to discover patterns and trends.

XML for Analysis is meant to re-create for the Web existing corporate network-based data access specifications. Two older specifications, ODBC and OLE DB, backed by Microsoft and supported by the rest of the computing industry, were created in the 1990s as a standard way of accessing databases from client-based programs.

ODBC works mostly with relational databases; OLE DB works with multiple data types, including text, video and data. Both specifications were aimed at programs working on local corporate networks, not the Internet.

To address that limitation, Microsoft and its partners built XML for Analysis. The coalition of companies on Monday will announce plans to revise the specification within the next year and submit it to an industry standards body. Microsoft did not specify which standards body it will work with.

"The limitations (of ODBC and OLE DB) were that they were invented before the Internet. We wanted to do it over the Web, so we created XML for Analysis," said John Eng, product manager for Microsoft's SQL Server database product.

see special report: Web services: The new buzz Eng added that the XML specification will help foster the emerging market for Web services, which offers a new way of building software by allowing businesses to interact and conduct transactions. For example, a third-party broker can gather information from pharmacies throughout the country and sell sales reports via the Web to a pharmaceutical company, he said. The Web speeds up the process of getting reports to businesses, Eng added.

Microsoft's database rivals--Oracle, Sybase and IBM--have so far declined an invitation by Microsoft to join the effort. Oracle, along with IBM and Sun Microsystems, supports a rival specification based on the Java programming language called Java Online Analytical Processing (JOLAP). IBM, however, is indirectly supporting Microsoft's effort because Hyperion is involved in the specification. IBM uses Hyperion's OLAP Server technology in its DB2 database.

 

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