Making Web Services Worthy of Trust

Coffee: Debates about Web technologies must not confuse a tool kit with a marketplace.

Two weeks from this Thursday, Ill be convening a panel discussion at the Software Development Conference and Expo in the Santa Clara Convention Center. The topic will be Web services; the panelists will represent IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, and toolmaker M7 Corp. (whose M7 Application Assembly Platform is a finalist in the Expos traditional "Jolt Awards" for developer productivity aids).

Theres no question that Web services are top-of-mind as the means of integrating applications within an enterprise, or among supply-chain partners who have some ability to collaborate on standards such as XML schema. In our third annual eWEEK eXcellence Awards program, whose finalists have been announced, we had 73 entrants under the heading of Application and Web Services Development: Of those, I would say that at least one-third were tools whose functions would be opaque to someone who did not know what Web services were about, and at least half the rest were tools with significant Web services applications.

Whats still to develop, though, is a plausible model of the Web as an open-air marketplace in which services can discover each other and bid for each others business. Its one thing to have a service like the Global Positioning System, whose inventors were honored last month with the prestigious Charles Stark Draper prize (sharing an award of $500,000). The GPS constellation is right there: You can see it, you can test its performance in your applications, and you can be reasonably sure that youre seeing the real thing and not some imitation. It would be nice if all services could have these characteristics.

The Net, by contrast, resists accountability: Whenever one party proposes to make it more difficult to pretend that youre not a dog, as the classic cartoon suggested in a somewhat simpler time, another party tilts the balance back toward anonymity. Would you buy anything from a retail establishment that did business from an unmarked trailer, all hitched up and ready to disappear for parts unknown? Arent Web services a lot like that, in the limit as we move to the completely dynamic marketplace that many proponents seem to regard as the goal?

Its great that were moving in the direction of whats aptly called "pervasive" computing and communications, a topic that will be thoroughly examined at the first annual "PerCom" conference in Fort Worth, Texas, later this month. I truly enjoy being able to work from anywhere, even if I sometimes wish that I werent expected to be "at work" everywhere. And its a welcome development to see the tools coming to market to do these things securely, as well as with speed and convenience.

And after my panel concludes, Ill tell you where I expect to see things going in the months to come.

Tell me where you are, and where youre going, with Web services technologies and practices.