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Looming standards war:Who controls the future of Web services? part two

A standards-setting war has broken out between the W3C and OASIS, and according to analysts, the real losers are users. In this part two, we'll examine the future of Web services.

The Web Services Advisor
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Continued from Part One

It's off to war we go
As I explained in my last column, the W3C and OASIS have bumped heads over setting standards, most notably backing competing standards for Web services orchestration, which define the way that Web services integrate with business processes. The W3C established its WS-Choreography Working Group in March, and then about a month later, OASIS began working on a Web Services Business Process Execution Language (WSBPL) standard submitted to OASIS by IBM, Microsoft, SAP AG and BEA.

There are several different reasons for the split, according to analysts. First is that standards bodies gain their influence by, obviously, setting standards, and so each is unwilling to let the other be the primary standards setter. But deeper than that is that the vendors themselves are trying to control standards, because whoever control standards controls the future of Web services. So on one side is a Microsoft/IBM union, and on the other is a Sun/Oracle axis.

The effect on vendors and users
Analysts and users agree that dueling standards is bad for the industry, for vendors, and for those corporations that want to put Web services into effect. Vendors hold back creating new products because they don't know which standard they should base those products on. There are significant consequences if they make the wrong bet — they could be left with an immediately obsolete product line.

Similarly, corporations hold off on implementing Web services solutions as well. They don't want to base enterprise systems on a dead-end standard. And because vendors aren't creating new products because of the lack of agreement over standards, there are fewer products to choose from. The end result is stagnation.

"I've talked to an executive a while back at one of the two (standards-setting) organizations, and he's pessimistic about the future," says Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with the Red Monk analyst firm. "At the time I thought he was overly doom-crying and putting out prophesies of disaster….but it's true that in terms of speed and efficiency of standards evolving, thing are going very poorly." Ron Schmelzer, Senior Analyst with the Web services consulting group ZapThink, concurs, and warns that "this can hamper innovation because it's providing companies with a reason for not developing new products. They just want to solve business's problems and make money," but they can't if there is no agreement on standards, he says.

It's not only the analysts who complain about the problem. Users do as well. "(The standards bodies) have really dropped the ball on this," Daniel Austin, a senior technical architect at W.W. Grainger, an industrial products distributor based in Chicago, told CNet's News.com. "With so many overlapping standards, (the vendors are) killing the ability to have real interoperability. What we're going to see is a competitive, proprietary jungle, and we won't be able to get the benefits of Web services."

It's not just OASIS and W3C
Blaming the problem on OASIS and W3C alone, though, is simplistic. The fault lies with the vendors. They have squabbled over many other standards, even when both OASIS and the W3C aren't involved.

In the past, they have fought over standards such as for authentication and single sign-on. And just this July they were at it again, over a standard for reliable messaging in Web services applications. The goal is to make sure that XML documents can be sent reliably between applications and computers.

In February, Sun, Oracle, Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC and Sonic Software submitted to OASIS a reliable messaging standards to solve the problem, called Web Services Reliable Messaging. Thing were going along fine, until Microsoft hosted a meeting in July to talk about its WS-ReliableMessaging (WS-RM) spec, which it wrote along with IBM, BEA Systems and Tibco.

You can't blame that on any standards body. Once again, it was the Microsoft/IBM group lined up against the Sun/Oracle group.

What the future holds
For the moment, there doesn't seem to be much hope that this kind of thing will end soon. As long as the world is divided into two camps — Microsoft/IBM and Sun/Oracle — this will continually happen. And the losers will be vendors and users.

But some analysts believe that there is some hope, ZapThink's Schmelzer believes that "at some point customers will demand that the whole thing be resolved and that will put an end to it."

Red Monk's O'Grady adds that ultimately "the market will function appropriately and through Darwinian evolution the right standards will win."

Of course, all that can take a while — after all, no one ever said that evolution was fast. Think of how long it took to get to human beings.

For related Webcasts:

  • Webcast: Making e-business standards work with Web services with David R.R. Webber, Author and cofounder of the XML/edi Group.
  • For related Articles and Commentary:

    About the Author

    Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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