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The market should demand a single set of Web services standards

Peter Abrahams comments on the multitude of standards and how the market should consolidate.

Guest Commentary
The market should demand a single set of Web services standards
by Peter Abrahams, Bloor Research

Recently I wrote about Steve Mills, from IBM, and Bill Gates, from Microsoft, being on the same stage and demonstrating Web services interoperating across both their platforms. This was made possible because they used the same coordination and transaction specifications. IBM and Microsoft stated that they plan to take these specifications to a standards body sometime soon, but did not say when or why there is a delay.

Since that article OASIS has set up a Web Services Composite Application Framework Technical Committee which will have its first teleconference meeting on October 31st. To quote from its charter 'The WS-CAF TC will accept as input the WS-Context, WS-Coordination Framework and WS-Transaction Management specifications published by Arjuna, Fujitsu, Iona, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems on July 28 2003. Other contributions in addition to WS-CAF will be accepted for consideration without any prejudice or restrictions and evaluated on their technical merit, as long as the contributions conform to the goals and scope of this charter.'

If these two initiatives do not come together the industry is going to suffer. The promise of Web services will not be fulfilled. The promise that business processes can be built up by connecting Web services from various partners and vendors. These business processes running over extended periods of days, weeks or even months. This vision will only work if they all use a common protocol.

Consider what would happen if a road network was being set up for a new country and as part of that process each town could decide which side of the road they would drive on! It could be made to work but it would always be prone to accidents and failures. This analogy is simplistic but apt because looking at the two specifications:

  • They are addressing the same problem area.
  • They have the same basic architecture. This is hardly surprising because they both come out of some early work that IBM and Arjuna did together.
  • They differ mainly in terms of syntax and semantics (to great extent the XML tags). One difference is that the WS-CAF has abstracted out the concept of a context. IBM and Microsoft have not done that but the same concept is incorporated in their specification.
Looking at the specifications there does not seem to be any overwhelming technical reasons why one is superior to the other. Therefore any long term schism will be caused by attempts to gain commercial by promoting one over the other.

In the early days of developing a specification for a standard it is important that as many good ideas are investigated as possible and that the process is not over burdened with committee bureaucracy. The trick is to ensure that standards are developed before too much capital, emotional, developmental or fiscal has been spent. If this does not happen the cost is either pain for the consumer or blood on the carpet of the suppliers.

My view is that we have now reached the inflection point and the market must persuade the two groups to join together. If this does not happen in the next six months then our industry, and in a sense the whole world economy, will be permanently poorer.

Vendors who will use this technology, especially the application suite vendors, and all enterprises must lobby Microsoft, IBM and the WS-CAF team to get their act together quickly to develop a single standard. The Oasis meeting on the 31st of October would be a good date to aim for.

Copyright 2003. Originally published by IT-Director.com, reprinted with permission. IT-Director.com provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free e-mail subscription, click here.

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