As it looked at application development from the business information workers perspective, Microsoft envisioned its tools and products as part of a unified development platform, Ballmer said. "Each and every one of the products we build isnt just an application but a tool that can be extended if we give the right tools," he said. Microsoft is also committed to open standards and interoperability and the company is not looking at a closed environment. "Our company has made a greater commitment to and investment in interoperability over the past few years than people ever give us credit for."I am very proud of the work we have done in collaboration with IBM and others around the WSI standards needed to get the next level of XML standards in place. We are absolutely committed to XML and the stack that goes below it. XML Web standards are essentially an architected way to do interoperability," he said.Ballmer then announced Web Services Enhancement version 2.0, a supported add-on to Visual Studio .Net and the Microsoft .Net Framework that allows developers to build and consume security-enhanced Web services using the latest Web services protocol specifications. WSE is the vehicle via which Microsoft provides annual or biannual updates to its Web services support. The 2.0 release includes support for Web services specs upon which Microsoft, IBM and BEA have collaborated, as well as support for greater security. It has been almost a year since Microsoft talked up its planned WSE 2.0 add-on for Visual Studio. Last July, company officials made available a "technology preview" of the WSE 2.0 toolkit. Company execs have said the 2.0 release will be primarily about security. It will allow developers and administrators to apply security policies on Web services that run on the Microsoft .Net Framework, according to Microsoft. Via WSE 2.0, Web services will be able to be signed and encrypted using Kerberos tickets, X.509 certificates, username/password credentials and XML-based security-tokens. Version 1.0 supported the WS-SecurityWS-Routing and WS-Attachments Web services standards. Version 2.0 will add support for WS-Trust, WS-Policy, WS-SecureConversation and WS-Secure Policy. Version 2.0 also will feature a new message-oriented programming model, Microsoft officials have said. Ballmer on Monday also announced the technical preview of BizTalk Server Adapter for Web Services 2.0, designed to orchestrate security-enhanced Web services and expose business process flows as secure Web services. He also announced the beta for a set of extensions to Microsoft Office, known as the Information Bridge Framework, or IBF, so that Office can be a smart client on the front end to XML services that live elsewhere in the network or over the Web. Redmonds new IBF tool is designed to connect Microsoft Office applications to back-end enterprise systems. IBF is designed to connect Web services to the Office client with no "extra hops" or intermediate servers required. It builds on the XML support that Microsoft already has built into its Office System 2003 applications, such as Word, Excel and Outlook. IBF will allow developers and information-worker users to expose "enterprise business objects" and then pull them right into their familiar Office documents. (Enterprise business objects, in this context, are entities such as "customers" and "purchase orders.") Microsofts plan is to deliver IBF version 1.0 in the fourth calendar quarter of this year. Visual Studio .Net 2003 users will be able to take advantage of IBF via an IBF Metadata Designer plug-in, which will be part of Version 1.1, Version 1.1 also is due before the end of 2004, according to information on Microsofts Web site. In 2005, Microsoft plans to deliver version 2.0 of IBF, which will add support for SharePoint Portal Server Web parts and Visual Studio Tools for Office integration. By the time Longhorn ships (2006 or later), Microsoft is planning to embed version 3.0 right into the operating system. Next page: Up next: Visual Studio 2005 and Yukon.