CTO FORUM - Web services, XML draw interest, scepticism

Although issues such as Web services and XML drew a lot of interest at the CTO Forum conference this week, attendees also are viewing them with sceptical eyes.

These technologies and others such as the 802.11 wireless standard and the concept of extreme programming, involving closely knit teams of programmers and customers working together on requirements, were on the minds of users at the event, which bore the theme of "constructive disruption."

"Of course, Web services has got us all buzzing, and it's interesting to see what people say about it," said Bill Stein, principal at Silicon Coast Software, a Santa Cruz, Calif.-based software consulting firm. But there needs to be concurrence on Web services standards, Stein said.

Web services were not something at the top of the radar screen of another attendee: John Jordan, principal at software consulting firm Cap Gemini Ernst & Young LLP in Cambridge, Mass.

"I think it's something for developers and programmers to talk about a lot," he said.

"As a business user, I don't care if you're using Web services, I don't care if you're using Cobol. I just want to get my job done," Jordan said.

There are questions about Web services, such as time stamp issues when a user in one time zone deploys a Web service to conduct a transaction with another party in a different time zone, said Jordan.

Stein questioned whether users will agree on definitions of business tags based on XML. A lot of interesting things could happen if users agree on standard descriptions of business information, Stein said.

Attendee Andy Fearns, CTO and co-founder of mobile software developer Zaparoo, in San Francisco, stressed that standard XML data definitions for specific industries would "make our lives much simpler."

"They're trying to do it but I don't see an awful lot of speed in that process," Fearns said. "The biggest constructive technology would be for that to happen across specific industries."

The concept of extreme programming also drew attention, with its paired programming concept and close alignment with customers.

"Programmers are making decisions with every line of code they write," and it is better to have customers participate closely, as they do with extreme programming, Stein said.

Jordan also took an interest in the new programming methodology.

"I think people are starting to realize it's not just ask what [users] want and go ahead and build it," said Jordan, who classified extreme programming as a constructive technology. "Getting people to articulate what they want and need is a really hard task."

Also of interest was the 802.11 wireless standard. "802.11 has come of age," Stein said. The ability to be logged on to the network from anywhere via 802.11 is both a constructive and disruptive technology, said Stein.

Jordan called 802.11 a disruptive technology. Users are beginning to use 802.11 whether or not their companies know it, and raising potential security concerns, said Jordan.

"I think [use of 802.11] is massive. It's growing like a weed," Jordan said.

"There [are] huge amounts of it below the radar," he said.

Security-wise, "The stuff's leaky as hell," Jordan said. But 802.11 is useful, he said. "It's convenient, it solves a problem, and it's cheap," Jordan said.

Grid computing, which aggregates and deploys unused computing cycles across desktops, also is interesting, Stein said, but its applications are unclear. "[It's] a technology looking for an application," he said.

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