A flock of pigs has been doing aerobatics high up over Microsoft Campus in Redmond in the past three weeks. Neither City of Redmond nor Microsoft spokespeople returned calls requesting comments in time for this article. An Microsoft worker who requested anonymity and has seen the pigs flying overhead commented that "they are as good as the Blue Angels at Seafair, just funnier" and "they seem to circle over building 42 a lot, but I wouldn't know why".

In related news ...

We wrapped up the BizTalk Services "R11" CTP this last Thursday and put the latest SDK release up on http://labs.biztalk.net/. As you may or may not know, "BizTalk Services" is the codename for Microsoft's cloud-based Identity and Connectivity services - with a significant set of further services in the pipeline. The R11 release is a major milestone for the data center side of BizTalk Services, but we've also added several new client-facing features, especially on the Identity services. You can now authenticate using a certificate in addition to username and CardSpace authentication, we have enabled support for 3rd party managed CardSpace cards, and there is extended support for claims based authorization.

Now the surprising bit:

Only about an hour before we locked down the SDK on Thursday, we checked a sample into the samples tree that has a rather unusual set of prerequisites for something coming out of Microsoft:

Runtime: Java EE 5 on Sun Glassfish v2 + Sun WSIT/Metro (JAX-WS extensions), Tool: Netbeans 6.0 IDE.

The sample shows how to use the BizTalk Services Identity Security Token Service (STS) to secure the communication between a Java client and a Java service providing federated authentication and claims-based authorization.

The sample, which you can find in ./Samples/OtherPlatforms/StandaloneAccessControl/JavaEE5 once you installed the SDK, is a pure Java sample not requiring any of our bits on either the service or client side. The interaction with our services is purely happening on the wire.

If you are a "Javahead", it might seem odd that we're shipping this sample inside a Windows-only MSI installer and I will agree that that's odd. It's simply a function of timing and the point in time when we knew that we could get it done (some more on that below). For the next BizTalk Services SDK release I expect there to be an additional .jar file for the Java samples.

It's important to note that this isn't just a thing we did as a one-time thing and because we could. We have done a significant amount of work on the backend protocol implementations to start opening up a very broad set of scenarios on the BizTalk Services Connectivity services for platforms other than .NET. We already have a set of additional Java EE samples lined up for when we enable that functionality on the backend. However, since getting security and identity working is a prerequisite for making all other services work, that's where we started. There'll be more and there'll be more platform and language choice than Java down the road.

Just to be perfectly clear: Around here we strongly believe that .NET and the Windows Communication Foundation in particular is the most advanced platform to build services, irrespective of whether they are of the WS-* or REST variety. If you care about my personal opinion, I'll say that several months of research into the capabilities of other platforms has only reaffirmed that belief for me and I don't even need to put a Microsoft hat on to say that.

But we recognize and respect that there are a great variety of individual reasons why people might not be using .NET and WCF. The obvious one is "platform". If you run on Linux or Unix and/or if your deployment target is a Java Application Server, then your platform is very likely not .NET. It's something else. If that's your world, we still think that our services are something that's useful for your applications and we want to show you why. And it is absolutely not enough for us to say "here is the wire protocol documentation; go party!". Only Code is Truth.

I'm also writing "Only Code is Truth" also because we've found - perhaps not too surprisingly - that there is a significant difference between reading and implementing the WS-* specs and having things actually work. And here I get to the point where a round of public "Thank You" is due:

The Metro team over at Sun Microsystems has made a very significant contribution to making this all work. Before we started making changes to accommodate Java, there would have been very little hope for anyone to get this seemingly simple scenario to work. We had to make quite a few changes even though our service did follow the specs.

While we were adjusting our backend STS accordingly, the Sun Metro team worked on a set of issues that we identified on their end (with fantastic turnaround times) and worked those into their public nightly builds. The Sun team also 'promoted' a nightly build of Metro 1.2 to a semi-permanent download location (the first 1.2 build that got that treatment), because it is the build tested to successfully interop with our SDK release, even though that build is known to have some regressions for some of their other test scenarios. As they work towards wrapping up their 1.2 release and fix those other bugs, we’ll continue to test and talk to help that the interop scenarios keep working.

As a result of this collaboration, Metro 1.2 is going to be a better and more interoperable release for the Sun's customers and the greater Java community and BizTalk Services as well as our future identity products will be better and more interoperable, too. Win-Win. Thank you, Sun.

As a goodie, I put some code into the Java sample that might be useful even if you don't even care about our services. Since configuring the Java certificate stores for standalone applications can be really painful, I added some simple code that's using a week-old feature of the latest Metro 1.2 bits that allows configuring the Truststores/Keystores dynamically and pull the stores from the client's .jar at runtime. The code also has an authorization utility class that shows how to get and evaluate claims on the service side by pulling the SAML token out of the context and pulling the correct attributes from the token.

Have fun.

[By the way, this is not an April Fool's joke, in case you were wondering]