Desktop-to-server communication may be just the spark that Web services need to make it to the mainstream. Westbridge Technology Inc. thinks so, and it's leveraging a workhorse application in Microsoft's Office suite to make it happen.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based software vendor has released a new version of its Web services management platform -- XML Message Server 3.0 -- that includes a plug-in that the company said allows users of Microsoft's Excel spreadsheet program to access XML Web services.
"The whole idea of service-oriented architecture is reusability," said Kerry Champion, president and co-founder of Westbridge. By taking a desktop application and connecting it to a Web services interface, that application takes on a whole new life as both a consumer and provider of Web services, he said.
And few desktop applications have wider appeal as a productivity tool.
"Excel's the most important desktop tool that needs to be connected to Web services," Champion said. Once it is connected to an interface, Excel can be used to update an existing Web service, or to download data from a Web service to share among other spreadsheets.
Office 2003 ready for Web services
One analyst said that desktop-accessed Web services have enormous potential and that they will first emerge from Microsoft's application suite.
"[I] definitely see Office 2003 being a turning point in the use of Web services," said Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, a Waltham, Mass., consultancy. Because the next version of Office offers top-to-bottom support for the functions of Web services, "it will give the ability to consume Web services to your average information worker."
"Once people get the hang of it, and learn to take advantage of that capability, you're going to see an explosion in the use of Web services," Bloomberg said. He said vendors that can make their products serve as a gateway between Office and a Web service stand to get in on the ground floor.
"Westbridge is definitely planning ahead," he said.
Other features of XMS 3.0
Communication between an Office application and a Web service is secured and monitored by Westbridge's flagship product, XML Message Server (XMS). Other new features in version 3.0 of this management product include a "SmartParser" that is designed to parse XML data according to rules and caching, an auto-validation tool that generates XML schemas from WSDL, and a wizard-driven function to get started with the software.
Champion said that, because identity and access management are key components in securing Web services -- especially those that can now be tapped into from a desktop application, Westbridge supports multiple identity management products, including those from Oblix Inc. and RSA Security Inc.
"What you can do with our product is identify your existing business systems with their existing XML interfaces, and we will understand those interfaces," said Champion, who described his company's "center of gravity" as service views, or virtual views of a service.
Bloomberg, who said the term "view" originated in the database world, said service views provide an organization with a single, course-grained interface that can be accessed by consumers of a Web service.
FTC exposes back-end applications
Among Westbridge customers employing this technology is the Federal Trade Commission, which uses XMS to allow "external connectivity" to Web services.
Champion said the agency and one of its key contractors have large databases that need to be synchronized and made accessible to a variety of state and local governments. The FTC exposes its back-end applications as Web services, and Westbridge's XMS helps create service views so that the FTC can provide appropriate access, audit trails and meet privacy requirements.
XMS 3.0, which includes the plug-in for the Office XP version of Excel, costs $35,000 for the two-CPU Corporate Edition. The software is scheduled to be released in November and is aimed primarily at large enterprises, Champion said. The platform supports a number of Web services standards.
Version 3.1, which is due to follow in April, will add support for the Web Services Interoperability Organization's Basic Profile 1.0 guidelines. Future releases will also include desktop-to-server communication plug-ins for other desktop systems, although Champion declined to say which ones would be next.
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