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Microsoft guru: Clock is ticking on Web services

According to one of Microsoft Corp.'s top technology evangelists, who delivered a keynote address Wednesday at the XML Web Services One Conference & Expo, Web services will quickly disappear if companies can't move from merely implementing Web services to projects that make money off of them.


BOSTON -- In two years, Web services could be history.

According to one of Microsoft Corp.'s top technology evangelists, who delivered a keynote address Wednesday at the XML Web Services One Conference & Expo, Web services will quickly disappear if companies can't move from merely implementing Web services to projects that make money off of them.

Don Box, one of the architects behind Microsoft's Web services efforts and an original author of Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), said Web services are merely a means to an end.

"I predict we won't have this conference in two years," Box said. "It's a great time to be a SOAP plumber, but nobody is going to spend money on this [technology] in two years if it doesn't provide real business value."

For Web services to survive, Box said companies must work toward a point when Web services are taken for granted as another piece of the overall technology arsenal. He said most organizations are enjoying learning how to build them now, but the emphasis on envisioning how to profit from Web services must take center stage soon, or else CFOs will start cutting funding for the technology.

Conference attendee Dhanya Thakkar, who works for security firm Entrust Inc., called Box's theory "wishful thinking." Even though Thakkar said his company may soon offer products related to Web services, he said it will take more than two years for most companies to figure out how to profit from Web services.

"I think Web services will still succeed," Thakkar said. "More people and companies are planning to use Web services.... From that momentum, companies will build a good case that [Web services] translate to ROI."

KEEPING SOAP CLEAN

Box also said during his keynote that Microsoft is not looking to replace the SOAP 1.2 specification with a future 1.3 edition that could introduce significant changes. According to Box, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is about six to 12 months away from signing off on SOAP 1.2.

"We're not looking to change SOAP. We're very happy with it, so we think SOAP 1.2 should be the end of the line. If we need to do a SOAP 1.3, then the extensibility model in SOAP 1.2 wasn't that good," said Box, adding that a new version would not likely solve such a problem.

He said Microsoft believes that the best way to enhance SOAP is by adding Global XML Architecture (GXA)-based protocols such as WS-Security, WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction to SOAP message headers.

Box also discussed XML Schema Definition (XSD), a W3C recommendation that specifies how to formally describe the elements of an XML document. He said XSD is just as important as Web Services Description Language (WSDL), which basically references XSD. Though it's a complex language to work with, Box said XSD's complexity can be overcome with solid development tools.

SOAP SECRETS

Though SOAP has become synonymous with Web services, supporting them was not its original mission.

Tim Ewald, Microsoft's program manager for XML Web services and another of Wednesday's speakers, said SOAP was intended to usher Java or CORBA messages through firewalls in order to do remote method calls.

He said that's one reason why developers often encounter interoperability issues when using SOAP for more than basic Web service functions, and why Microsoft has worked to expand its usefulness via additional protocols.

"SOAP doesn't do the job of metadata and define what the XML data is supposed to look like," Ewald said. "It just assumes everyone knows, and that's not the case in the world of Web services."

Craig DeMoss, an attendee employed by Western Illinois University, said he hasn't decided how best to use SOAP yet. He said Western Illinois is looking to move away from its COBOL roots by building an XML Web service to track international student enrollment. Though his organization is still doing research, DeMoss said he hopes to have the Web service operational early next year.

Cheryl Anne Bell, who works for health care software firm Healthvision in Waltham, Mass., said that attending the conference has helped strengthen her understanding of SOAP, but she still feels she needs a better understanding of SOAP bindings before her company attempts to build Web services for its handheld users.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

CLICK for an exclusive column from Preston Gralla on Microsoft's .NET world

CLICK for a definition of XSD from WhatIs.com

CLICK for other articles by Eric B. Parizo

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