Tool Kit Accents Web Services Hurdles

Developers will find Microsoft Corp.'s Office XP Web Services Toolkit a mixed offering: It eases the initial shock of confronting a new application model, but it also highlights the impediments that will complicate the lives of early Web services adopters

Developers will find Microsoft Corp.s Office XP Web Services Toolkit a mixed offering: It eases the initial shock of confronting a new application model, but it also highlights the impediments that will complicate the lives of early Web services adopters.

Released last week, Office XP Web Services Toolkit invites application developers to transform desktop data containers (such as Excel spreadsheets and Word documents) into active collectors and filters, feeding from a worldwide supply of XML-punctuated data.

The tool kit is a relatively svelte download at less than 2MB (before expansion of compressed files), and in eWeek Labs tests it installed quickly. But it also installed with less visibility as to what it was doing than wed prefer.

When the dust had settled, though, we found ourselves equipped to explore the incorporation of Web services directly into Microsoft Outlook, Access or Excel, aided by included tutorials on XML Document Object Model and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), including complex data types.

Web Service References Tool, with its facilities for quickly locating and encapsulating services and exposing their methods and parameters, is the tool kits crucial contribution to rapid developer familiarization with what Web services can do. But before developers get too starry-eyed over the possibilities of Web services, we urge them to reflect on what the tool kit labels as trouble-shooting tips—but that we found to be general caveats for any plans of rapid Web services adoption.

For example, many users are still not living in the always-connected world that the Web services paradigm assumes. And many desktop, mobile and handheld systems arent yet equipped with the software infrastructure (such as Microsofts SOAP Type Library DLL) thats needed to interpret Web services requests and responses.

The Internet path to a service, or its input and output parameters, may change—just as a familiar Web site may suddenly surprise a human user with a new, more capable (but also initially confusing) redesign. Heavy network traffic or changing Web security technologies may impede or block transactions that a user had previously conducted without difficulty.

Developers who have been eagerly awaiting the shipping version of Visual Studio .Net will find Office XP Web Services Toolkit a reminder of how much is to come—in terms of the tools they will need for designing and building robust code, armed against the uncertainties of the services environment.

On the positive side, though, this tool kit is to the complex Visual Studio .Net as a screwdriver is to a lathe: more obvious, if also more limited, in function and much less demanding to learn.

Office XP Web Services Toolkit (which can be found via www.eweek.com/links) points the way but cant conceal the length of the journey ahead.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.