Web services – raising the ante

Jockeying for position

Sun and Microsoft both made significant announcements about their respective web services strategies last week. Co-incidently (or not) on the same day.

Of course the big argument between Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) and Microsoft's .Net is about platforms. Employees at Sun are apt to claim that their solution is open and doesn't lock you into an operating software platform.

This would be more convincing if the company hadn't just announced extensions to Solaris 8 specifically to support ONE. "Yes, of course you can run ONE on any platform, it just happens to run better on our platform" seems a pretty disingenuous argument to us.

However, the real question is not whether .Net will win out over ONE (or Oracle’s Dynamic Services for that matter) but how they will co-exist.

It is also only a half-truth in any case. Microsoft’s Indian development group, which is working on Visual J# is also working on Microsoft’s Services for Unix. Yes, Microsoft will host .Net on Windows platforms, but it doesn’t mean that .Net is limited to Windows environments.

However, the real question is not whether .Net will win out over ONE (or Oracle’s Dynamic Services for that matter) but how they will co-exist. Because it is as sure as shooting that all of them are going to be used by somebody. So will they be compatible?

Well, they are all supposed to be supporting SOAP and UDDI amongst other standards, so the theory is yes. But we all know that compliance with standards can mean different things to different people so the big danger is that these diverse systems won’t be compatible, which would mean having multiple different web services systems. We don’t think the user community would wear that. It's only worth the investment in web services if everybody can communicate; and while there's any danger that they won't (commmunicate) we think developers will hold back.

So it is up to the vendors. They have to get their products out there, and prove that that they work collaboratively before there will be any substantial take-up of either .Net or ONE or anything else by the user community. And this is going to take some considerable time.

The vendors are announcing products and roadmaps, and some of the former are in beta, but basically the web services idea is currently just hype. It sounds like a good idea but theory and practice can be very different, as we have seen all too often before in this industry. We don't expect a significant take-up of either of these technologies for some years. Of course there will be the early adopters, those who like to live on the bleeding edge.

What that means is that the likes of Microsoft and Sun are just jockeying for position, it won't be until they turn the final corner and enter the home straight that we will get a real idea of who is leading the field.

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