Steve Maine explains what's in the newest revision of the BizTalk Services SDK, including quite a few (standalone-) surprises for WCF and WF developers. In case you haven't noticed, we've dropped a new and substantially expanded build of the SDK just a week after we published the first SDK.

Stop. Don't leave yet. Before you say "What do I care about BizTalk?", you should know that while BizTalk has been more or less associated with the BizTalk Server 200x product line in the past few years, (Codename-) BizTalk Services is a complementary set of functionality that's not only interesting to BizTalk Server customers, but really to all .NET developers.

Weird? Flip flopping? Confusing? No. The fact that BizTalk is not only BizTalk Server isn't really new. When BizTalk came out back in 2000 and I was very closely looking at what's going on (get it used for $2), the definition read like this in the press release:

The BizTalk Initiative represents the collective set of investments that Microsoft is making to facilitate business process integration within and between organizations using Internet-standard protocols and formats. It includes the BizTalk Framework, the BizTalk.org community and business document library, as well as BizTalk Server 2000, a business process orchestration server and tools for developing, executing and managing distributed business processes. These investments are being made in conjunction with industry standards groups, technology and service providers, as well as key global organizations.

While the envisioned schema exchange BizTalk.org fell flat since industry-wide message-level-schema standardization for "everything" more or less didn't happen in the way people initially expected, what came out of this initiative as a significant element was that the set of specifications then known as the BizTalk Framework 2.0 that acted as a foundation for quite a few of the WS-* specifications and the BizTalk Server product which evolved into a very successful and leading SOA/BPM suite that's soon seeing its next release, BizTalk Server 2006 R2. Fast forward, read Steven Martin's blog entry where he writes:

[...] We see BizTalk Services as a complement to "traditional" BizTalk Server uses on premise. As you need to coordinate SOA on a broader scale beyond the organization, we see the introduction of hosted services as one way to help support federation of business process, messaging, and identity across boundaries. Over time, we want to ensure that BizTalk Server customers will be able to easily use the cloud services in conjunction with their premise technology. [...]

So all in all, a very sane way to think about BizTalk is that the software and services we publish under that name are providing functionality for messaging, process management and connectivity that go beyond the capability of the core .NET Framework.