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Friday, May 17, 2002

The unstoppable momentum of web services
A new report from respected e-business consulting group Patricia Seybold is called, simply, The Web Services Freight Train. It states that early adopters are not merely using web services to integrate internal applications; they're also using the technology to deliver new functionality faster to customers. "Visionary customer-centric companies are starting from the outside in. They use web services as a straightforward way to encapsulate and expose needed functionality to their customers and partnersí applications," comments Patricia Seybold, CEO of the strategic consultancy.

No doubt those companies are using the platforms discussed in an earlier paper, What to Look for in a Web Services Assembly Platform, authored by Seybold herself: "Web services assembly platforms ... address a new need in the marketplace, and it's a need that is going to get much larger, not smaller: how to mix and match web services in order to quickly assemble robust net-native applications."
posted by Phil Wainewright 12:08 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Thursday, May 16, 2002

Sun really is a victim, but who cares?
Bill Gates personally sanctioned political manoeuvres to keep Sun out of the WS-I industry group, court testimony revealed this week. "I can live with this if we have the positioning clearly in our favor. In particular, Sun not being one of the movers/announcers/founding members," Gates wrote in an internal email ahead of the launch of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) in February.

It occurred to me that the timing of this revelation, because of the embarrassment to Microsoft, might help IBM in its efforts to broker a peace deal that retrospectively allows Sun to claim the co-founder's status it covets at the WS-I. So I thought I would check with my good friend Amy Wohl, who speaks regularly with the main protagonists in this sorry tale. Unfortunately it turns out that Sun's petulant complaining about its treatment at the hands of the WS-I's founders has won it no real support. IBM's proposal to add two new seats to the organization's board offers Sun a way in, but it will still have to earn the votes of a majority of the group's existing 100+ members. IBM feels it has done enough by opening the door this much; but it is up to Sun now to win those votes — something it is almost certainly too proud to do.

"I think Sun doesn't understand Standards politics nearly as well as IBM or Microsoft does," was Amy's verdict in an email to me earlier today — my sentiments precisely.

In such circumstances, Microsoft's choice of the internal codename 'foo' for the WS-I ahead of its launch is intriguing (Bill Gates was speaking about 'foo' rather than the WS-I explicitly in the quote referenced above, but the equivalence between the two has been established in other testimony). Foo - as this IETF request for comment on its etymology explains - is widely used in open source program documentation "as a sample name for absolutely anything ... especially scratch files ... When used in connection with `bar' it is generally traced to the WW II era Army slang acronym FUBAR (`F***ed Up Beyond All Repair'), later modified to foobar." Is this perhaps a clue to Microsoft's true intentions with regard to WS-I?
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:49 PM (GMT) | comments | link
It's a state of mind, not a technology choice
Integration projects based on web services are just as likely to fail as traditional EAI if they start from the wrong mindset, points out CBDi Forum in its latest commentary: "Web services may be a great technology for presenting interfaces, but there is nothing intrinsic about their use that delivers a more meaningful business service ... whilst everyone will enthuse about loose coupling, and all the other benefits, many web service based solutions will still end up as hard-wired connections between specific implementations."
posted by Phil Wainewright 3:53 AM (GMT) | comments | link
IBM resources on web services and grid computing
An article in CW360 gives a useful digest of links to IBM resources on web services and grid computing, as well as some commentary on why the two are becoming interlinked. In particular, it highlights a recent white paper written by a team of top grid researchers for the Globus Project, which is co-ordinating research and development work to define foundation technologies for grid computing. The Physiology of the Grid [PDF] describes "... how Grid mechanisms can implement a service-oriented architecture ... how Grid functionality can be incorporated into a Web services framework, and ... how our architecture can be applied within commercial computing as a basis for distributed system integration."
posted by Phil Wainewright 2:19 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Web services for the great unwashed
Not all web services applications require SOAP; a simpler technique called REST can fetch XML data and content just as effectively. In this SearchWebServices interview, Roy Hoobler explains that REST works in much the same way as an RSS feed from a weblog: "It's like a very cheap subscription service. [Subscribers] wouldn't have to write a web service. You can just go there and get the content."

REST is gaining attention because it's what Amazon and eBay use to publish database data in XML format — in contrast to Google's adoption of SOAP for its recently-launched and much-discussed API. For the technically minded, Paul Prescod penned an astute critique of Google's use of SOAP a couple of weeks back at xml.com.

So why has Google opted for SOAP? "The reason we're going out with the SOAP API is the quality of the tools that are available for it," Nelson Minar, who is leading the project, told me when I asked him about this last week. And why would someone not want to take advantage of those tools? The cost might be an important factor, reveals Hoobler: "To use SOAP, you'd have to use the whole .NET framework, or you'd have to use WebSphere Studio. You'd have to use a hefty application, so it's an investment of time and money."

So there's the debate in a nutshell. The availability of enterprise-class tools mean that you'll get greater security, reliability and functionality out of using SOAP. That's not to be sniffed at, especially if there's serious money at stake. But if you want to expose non-sensitive data and content to as broad an audience as possible, adopting SOAP will most likely be overkill, to be recommended only if you believe Microsoft and IBM aren't selling enough tools already.
posted by Phil Wainewright 7:52 AM (GMT) | comments | link

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

A glimpsed vision of emerging technologies
Think of two discs laid one on top of the other and you can visualize how the web will shape the future. The lower disc is autonomic computing — a self-regulating technology infrastructure. The upper disc is autonomic society — a self-regulating human infrastructure, empowered as never before in its history by the web's combined connectivity and automation. All we have to do now is fill in the details.

For an early insight into some of those details, check out this week's proceedings at the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference in Santa Clara in the heart of Silicon Valley. You can read real-time coverage, courtesy of an autonomic cloud of weblogs being recorded on the spot by participants (many wirelessly). All the main themes are there. So too are many of the cross-currents and challenges they are up against. It's a rum old world.
posted by Phil Wainewright 3:32 PM (GMT) | comments | link

Monday, May 13, 2002

Relationship capital builds wealth in the digital age
"Trust is the 'sine qua non' of the digital economy," Digital Capital author Dan Tapscott told an audience in London today. Speaking at a meeting organized by e-business networking group The Ecademy, Tapscott outlined his updated philosophy for the post-Enron phase of the new economy: "Companies are going to have to be good, because you won't be able to survive if you aren't ... increasingly you'll compete by building trusting relationships. These relationships are becoming so important they become like another form of capital."

I think Tapscott's analysis is spot on. It reflects the rise of something that I call service-ization — a determination to reverse the soulless productization that has characterized the closing decades of the industrial age.

Tapscott's analysis injects extra urgency into this quest, observing that ordinary citizens are using the web as a tool to combat the excesses of corporate power: "The web is the most powerful tool in history to find out and inform others." No-one can get away any more with anything less than exemplary corporate behaviour, because sooner or later, the truth will be outed. "Transparency is becoming a powerful new force," he warns, one that will force corporations to change their ways whether they like it or not.

posted by Phil Wainewright 11:02 AM (GMT) | comments | link

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