Standards Critical to Web Services Success

eNews and Views: Vendors should promote flexibility rather than use standards to lock buyers into proprietary environments.

Web services hold the promise of helping enterprises create more efficient, Web-based businesses and of helping developers build applications in a faster, easier and more standardized manner.

And while much of Web services is still talk, things are beginning to come into focus. Sun Microsystems has spent the past year pumping up its Sun ONE initiative, bringing in the various elements of its product lines, such as the iPlanet Application Server and its Forte tool set. Microsoft this month unveiled its Visual Studio .Net development environment, giving some form to its .Net software-as-a-service strategy. And many others, from IBM and Hewlett Packard to Borland and Rational, all are jumping onto the Web services bandwagon.

The foundation of any Web services strategy will be the open standards that will enable applications to be built on any platform. But criticism of these standards—including UDDI and WSDL—and the companies that helped create them are beginning to bubble to the surface, and unless these issues are dealt with quickly, it will be difficult to realize the full potential of Web services.

As outlined by eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft in recent weeks, the most troubling criticism is that companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Sun are using these standards as a way of locking enterprises into a proprietary development environment. That is directly counter to the interoperability that should be inherent in Web services. Many developers say standards like WSDL—which was created by Microsoft and IBM—are crucial, but theres a growing chorus of critics who are beginning to its openness.

During a recent symposium at Harvard University, Suns chief technology evangelist, Simon Phipps, voiced these concerns and questioned the creation of a vendor organization whose mission is to promote the development and deployment of Web services. Phipps, whose company has not yet joined the Web Services Interoperability Organization, or WS-I, said the various standards bodies are becoming a way for vendors to promote their own technology and business plans. The WS-I has more than 55 members, including IBM, Microsoft, BEA and Intel.

"I have noticed that there is a lot more political interplay with these standards bodies," Phipps said. "Theres a great deal of political pressure and game playing... done under the veneer of interoperability."

The hope is that a new working group created by the World Wide Web Consortium designed to look at Web services standards, including WSDL, will find a way to make these standards truly interoperable. The worry is that Web services eventually will mirror the modern-day world of professional sports, where the interests of fans are slowly being squeezed out of the equation by owners and players who increasingly are worried only about the bottom line.

The interests of developers and enterprises, who are seeking a better and easier way of doing their jobs and conducting their businesses, should be paramount in the minds and actions of those vendors promoting Web services.

E-mail eWEEK Department Editor Jeffrey Burt.