This week, Microsoft and online auction giant eBay announced a licensing agreement that will offer eBay's auction functionality as .NET Web services. The agreement is the first such deal for the software giant, which is revving up its .NET strategy and launch plans. For eBay, the move to .NET will require a few interim steps: Microsoft will first offer eBay auctioning functions on its MSN Web sites while eBay starts to integrate Microsoft technologies such as Windows 2000 and Microsoft Passport into its backend processes.

"I am personally very excited about this deal because it combines eBay's online trading community with Microsoft's pioneering .NET platform technology," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO. "Together, with our shared vision for creating Web services that break the bounds of today's isolated Web sites, we can significantly enhance the online experience for millions of online customers."

When the transformation is complete, eBay will offer users ways to interact with online auctions using XML- and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)-based Web services. This interaction will make eBay's auctioning functions available to developers everywhere, opening up new types of interfaces for end users. We'll probably see auction applications that operate like regular Windows programs, as well as applications that integrate into components of Windows, such as MSN Messenger. By opening up its interfaces as Web services, eBay will expand the potential audience for its auctions in several ways. Imagine being paged on a cell phone or receiving an instant message in MSN Messenger when your bid has been outbid. These scenarios are the goal of this week's Microsoft/eBay deal.

The eBay deal, of course, is only the beginning. During a media event that introduced the deal, Microsoft executives expanded on the company's strategy for bringing .NET Web services to market. The company will offer inhouse applications, such as Microsoft Office, in new forms as Web-based subscriptions. Microsoft also will offer smaller applications, such as Hotmail and MSN Messenger, as Web services that any application written to .NET can consume, freeing them from the bounds of today's interfaces. For example, today, you can use Hotmail email on the Web or the Outlook Express and Outlook 2002 email clients. After Hotmail's functions are exposed as services, Hotmail could be exposed in--and integrated into--any application. This kind of freedom should dramatically jumpstart software development.

Microsoft's .NET building-block services include Passport.NET, for logon authentication; the next generation of MSN Messenger, for setting up remote voice and video calls; and .NET events and notifications, to help other services communicate. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote more about this subject in a .NET UPDATE article.