Microsoft's first beta of Longhorn will include a nearly complete version of the product's web services-based communication framework, code-named Indigo.

A Microsoft partner said that engineers working on Indigo had nearly finished their work. "They're not doing a lot of work with new features at this point," said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Citigate Cunningham, a consulting company.

Ari Bixhorn, director of web services strategy for Microsoft's platform strategy group, said that the version of Indigo included in beta 1 of Longhorn would closely resemble the product that Microsoft will release to manufacturing, giving developers an opportunity to start building applications using the Indigo programming model. Longhorn is expected to ship at the end of next year.

The availability of beta 1 of Longhorn has been the subject of much speculation, however. Some reports have nailed down August as the release date, based on comments made by Bob Muglia, Microsoft's senior vice president of Windows Server. However, Simon Hughes, group manager of mid-market solutions for Microsoft UK,said that beta 1 of Longhorn would not be available until September.

Even if Longhorn beta 1 makes it into the hands of developers before Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC), which will be held 13 to 16 September, it's not likely it will be anything they will want to start working with, said Michael Cherry, lead analyst for Windows at research group Directions on Microsoft.

"We have been advising customers that we don’t expect they'll see a build of Longhorn that’s worth their time until the PDC," Cherry said.

Microsoft first introduced Indigo at its last PDC in 2003. Indigo extends the .NET framework in Windows and allows developers not only to build Web services, but also to add reliability and security attributes to them, Bixhorn said.

The framework also promises to simplify the actual coding it takes to develop services, he said. By using Indigo, developers can reduce tasks that previously took thousands of lines of code down to two or three lines. In addition, Indigo lets developers use whatever Visual Studio 2005 code is familiar to them, including C#, Visual Basic or C++, Bixhorn said.

Although Microsoft has a good chance of making the development of web services more digestible for the average developer with Indigo, it may take some time before applications developed with the technology actually appear, Cherry said.

"One of the things Microsoft has always tried to do is lower the barrier to entry so that programmers who are newer to it can use the technologies sooner," he said. "We don't know who is going to jump on Indigo first -- who's going to use it or when we'll see an application that uses it."