EDITORIAL: Swirling Web services

Web services confusion reigns. In the pea soup are rival visions of future collaborative software architectures churning along with current efforts in complex Internet and intranet applications.

In recent months I've heard Hal Stern, the CTO of Sun's iPlanet, describe Web services as a means to move software development from some pre-industrial cottage industry to a more rigorously engineered regime.

A newswire just to hand describes Telstra opting for a major deal with Sun Microsystems to supply hardware and software for its 'next generation' of online services. It remains to be seen how useful or used these online Java-built applications would be. The cited examples include the familiar and boring wireless PDA access to stock quotes and e-mail, but I'm sure Telstra has bigger plans than this.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, Sun's great Web services rival, is signalling its 'transition to next phase of .Net' (see page 10). Conceding that progress of its two-year-old .Net initiative has been mixed so far, the company is sticking to its vision to for 'connecting information and, people, disparate systems and devices'. That sounds like PR fluff doesn't it? Analysts reckon it's years away. However, there is some substance to the vision in the form of the Visual Studio .Net tool on which Microsoft has spent billions. This tool automates the developer effort to create XML-based Web services applications. Microsoft needs more reference sites - I know there's some activity in major Australian institutions - but getting them to put up their hands is another story.

Other developments include a series of announcements by the major ERP vendors - seemingly aiming to bridge both the .Net and Java camps. Last month, SAP shipped its open Web services platform 'designed to unify people, information, and processes for any business application solution' including SAP R/3 Enterprise and mySAP.com. This also sounds like PR.

Hasso Plattner, co-chairman and CEO of SAP, said the platform includes the Web Dynpro presentation layer 'designed to create professional and easy-to-use interfaces'.

SAP will replace all user interfaces for existing and future applications and will provide the 'technology cornerstone and Web services foundation' for the company, Plattner added. Reportedly, it will 'provide a design-time environment that allows developers to model and create browser-based user interfaces as well as a standards based run-time environment that is device agnostic and bridges the gap between J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition), ABAP (Advanced Business Application Programming), and Microsoft .Net'. Something for every one.

Still looks like a swirling pea soup to me.

David_Beynon@idg.com.au, Editor in chief.

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