As companies ranging from Sun Microsystems Inc. to Oracle Corp. jockey to lay claim as leader of the Web services arena, developers say significant obstacles must be cleared before the use of such services is widespread.
Sun last week became the latest vendor to unveil its Web services strategy, joining IBM, Microsoft Corp. and Oracle. This week, Hewlett-Packard Co. is expected to give more details about its strategy, which will focus on Java and Extensible Markup Language.
At their core, all of the Web services plans announced to date are based on a new type of application that can be assembled on the fly and accessed via the Web from different devices. But despite the advances, developers so far are giving such services a cool reception.
"These companies have to do a lot more convincing than just putting out a press release and a bunch of new technologies," said Nathanial Freitas, chief technology officer of wireless developer ThinAirApps LLC. "They just need to be clear about what theyre offering and not [focus] on this big marketing strategy. Thats not the way theyre going to get people."
Obstacles preventing widespread adoption of the Web services run the gamut from the sheer newness of the technology to deep-seated problems such as the Internets reliability.
"Its exciting and interesting, but from the business side, its tricky," said Freitas, in New York.
"Developers ... are taking a wait-and-see approach," said the CEO of a software development company familiar with Suns and Microsofts strategies. "Because all of this technology is just coming out, its fairly immature. Secondly, its confusing. Theres all this stuff people are announcing, but how much of it is real?"
Even vendors acknowledge the confusion. Bob Crowley, CEO of Bowstreet Inc., one of the first to offer Web services, said that while it is a hot topic, many dont understand what it means.
"This is a brand-new stack which did not exist," said Crowley, in Portsmouth, N.H. "This is really the coming of the network is the computer, or the computer is the Internet."
The reliability of the Internet also is a hurdle, with some developers questioning whether their customers will want mission-critical applications based on the Web.
"People are skeptical to deploy anything new at this point," said Alex Hochberger, CEO of Feratech Inc., a Boston-based development shop. "Until the Internet is [as reliable as a dial tone], I think corporations are going to keep applications in-house."
While some Web services companies dont anticipate immediate widespread adoption, they say some early adopters will start using the services this year.
The Thread, an Internet-based sourcing network specializing in the apparel industry, uses Bowstreet Web services to allow clients to create customized Web-based supply chains. The Thread overcame customer reluctance by providing the services both as a hosted solution and as packages similar to shrink-wrapped software, said Leo Massarani, chief technology officer.
"We think its a ways off," Massarani, in New York, said of widespread use of Web services. "I would not recommend that anybody start building Web services with the idea that theyre going to just publish them [and that] people are going to find them, link to them and pay for them."
Still, Massarani said, developers should start building Web services features into their applications so theyre ready when the market does arrive.