Web Services: High Stakes Amid The Hype

From: tim finin (finin@cs.umbc.edu)
Date: 10/18/01

Here's a relevant artticle in the Post from today. Too
bad it doesn't mention DAML+OIL or the semantic web,
even though it does refer to software agents. Maybe
we should write and send an overview article to "Web Services 
Journal" (http://www.sys-con.com/webservices/).  Tim


Web Services: High Stakes Amid The Hype 
By Leslie Walker, Washington Post
18 Oct 2001, 6:51 AM CST

A new magazine practically jumped out at me the other day when I went
into a Borders bookstore: Web Services Journal. Since when do Web
services rate their own magazine? I thought they were still just a
dream being chased by software vendors.

But thumbing through other technology magazines this month, I noticed
they, too, were dishing up stories about Web services.

Despite vague explanations about what they are, Web services seem to
be shaping up as the most hyped technology of the year -- and perhaps
the least understood. Yet they are key to understanding the battle
between Microsoft Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc.  to deliver online
subscription services.

Web services, you see, are the hoped-for byproduct of a new set of
standards being developed for Internet software. These emerging
software standards, with an alphabet soup of names (SOAP, UDDI and
WDSL), supposedly will help programmers create smarter services
online, in part by spawning software "agents" that will do work people
now do manually by surfing to various Web sites.

Microsoft released the first whiff of Web services last week when
eBay, CNBC and Microsoft's MSN Carpoint site began offering custom
electronic alerts for such things as auction bid updates, stock
prices, traffic congestion and flight changes. The alerts, made
possible by the new software standards, can be delivered to most
e-mail addresses, cell phones, desktop computers and personal digital
assistants. Microsoft named another 20 companies that are planning to
adopt its alerts.

Most people don't realize what a sea change the underlying new
standards are for Internet computing, an industry that historically
has resisted standards and relied on propriety programming languages
that can't talk to one another. As a result, big businesses have for
years had to hire legions of programmers to write special code to
integrate their hodgepodge of programs for accounting, inventory and
other functions.

Now the grand idea is to make Internet software more interoperable by
agreeing to common communication conventions that would allow
disparate programs to snap together like Lego blocks.

Microsoft bought into this vision and has given it greater credence by
rewriting most of its own software to conform to the nascent Internet
software standards. The company dubbed its little-understood suite of
forthcoming software and services ".Net."

But the movement is bigger than Microsoft. There is even a fledgling
directory at Uddi.org that functions as a kind of Yellow Pages for Web
services, allowing programmers to look up whatever program they need
and get instructions on how to meld it into their own product.

For example, I might create "Leslie's Daily Tech News" by using this
directory to license software programs from various companies -- a
billing system, say, from PayPal, access to a multi-device alert
network from Microsoft, news photos from Agence France-Presse, a Web
site builder from Yahoo. Voilą! All I would have to do is write the
hourly news stories and I have an online service.

There are plenty of skeptics who say the Internet's decentralized
nature could prove hostile to complicated Web services delivered by
different providers.

"I think the idea of building interactive applications and running
them across the public Internet is stretching its capabilities too
far," said one prominent technology executive who didn't want to be
publicly quoted as challenging Microsoft's vision.

Another industry player, Ticketmaster chief executive John Pleasants,
agreed the vision may be a tad ambitious, saying: "It's going to get
soupier and uglier before it gets better, but in general I do believe
we are headed in the right direction."

Ticketmaster just rolled out a new "AOL Box Office" that integrates
online ticket sales with the AOL service, and it plans a ticketing
service that would let people order tickets as part of Microsoft's
.Net services.

Pleasants, though, conceded online integration between companies poses
challenges. "What happens when you don't get your tickets you ordered
. . . ? Microsoft is not going to want you to call them, they're going
to want you to call us."

While some developers are happy Microsoft has adopted the Internet's
new standards, Sun Microsystems and other competitors are crying foul,
contending that Microsoft is trying to hijack the standards by
creating programming tools containing proprietary tricks that won't
work with competitive products. The rivalry is so intense that
Microsoft removed support for Java, Sun's programming language, from
its new Windows XP operating system.

Microsoft's foes seem angriest about its Internet identity system
called Passport, which allows people to access participating Web sites
by typing in a single user name and password. While the system has
raised privacy alarms, Passport is crucial to Microsoft's larger
strategy because .Net ultimately requires central identification to
synchronize and personalize services from different providers.

But competitors see Passport as a Trojan horse designed to turn the
Internet into a cash register for Microsoft, making it easier for the
company to collect fees for services it doesn't get a dime for
today. And to the alarm of rivals, Passport is tightly integrated with
Windows XP, which the company is officially releasing next week, along
with a redesigned version of its flagship portal, MSN.com, and its
Internet access software. All are cross-linked and compatible with the
new .Net software standards.

Whether the larger Web services movement can succeed remains to be
seen, but most big Internet players can't afford to ignore it now that
Microsoft has jumped in front.

You can see an expanded Web guide to many sites referenced to the last
few ".com" columns about how the Internet is responding to the war
against terrorism by going to www.washingtonpost.com/walker. Leslie
Walker's e-mail address is walkerl@washpost.com.

Reported by Washingtonpost.com, http://www.washingtonpost.com
06:51 CST Reposted 09:50 CST
© 2001 The Washington Post Company

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