Startups look to put new face on Web services

Several new vendors are currently at work on building a front-end interface to Web services.

Although Web services promise to enable users to access data and application functionality from a variety of devices, the current HTML (Hypertext Markup Language)-based way of trading information across the Internet needs some tailoring for that vision to be realized.

The problem is that within a typical Web browsing scenario, when the server receives a request it rebuilds the entire page in HTML, then sends it back to the site visitor. This method is suitable for PCs, but does not work as well for smaller devices, such as handhelds and cell phones.

The issue is twofold. First, sending a whole Web page to smaller devices demands more bandwidth than such devices can handle and more information than users need on that device. Second, browsing an entire Web page on a cell phone is downright impractical, if not practically impossible.

Kathy Quirk, an analyst at Boston-based consultancy Hurwitz Group, said that vendors need to include support for various devices in the programming model.

"Some vendors are setting it up so programmers can develop applications as they normally do, then deploy them to multiple devices," Quirk said. "The key is you don't want to have to build applications for all the different devices."

To that end, a new crop of companies is emerging to create a front-end delivery mechanism for Web services, including Curl Technologies, Fourbit, Digital Harbor, and Droplets, although each has its own manner of enabling the delivery of Web services. The latest two of these to disclose intentions are Digital Harbor and Fourbit.

"Web services is a huge new beast that everybody's talking about," said Rohit Agarwal, chief executive officer (CEO) of Digital Harbor, in Provo, Utah. "Right now, the focus is on machine-to-machine communication, but there needs to be an interface."

Agarwal sees the evolution of Web services bringing about a change in the way content is delivered from the whole page to just enough information. Part of that change is the ability to provide universal access to live information, Agarwal added. "We're going to make applications disposable, just as browsers make content disposable," he said.

Digital Harbor's product, currently in beta and slated for commercial availability in January, enables users to build applications out of Web services in a plug-and-play fashion, so that any given application can be accessed by a variety of interfaces.

"We're talking about doing more than Web browsing -- we're talking about Web-based applications," Agarwal said.

Fourbit Group, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Internet and wireless infrastructure provider, is also talking about Web-based applications. The company is building technology that essentially takes browsing capabilities a step forward by arming users with features normally found only in desktop applications, according to Rick Sanderson, CEO and chief technology officer (CTO) of Fourbit.

Fourbit's software, dubbed Fablet, helps developers separate presentation from logic and describes workflow so that servers do not have to process requests into HTML pages. "Servers simply send the raw information, and Fablet takes care of the rest," Sanderson said.

Earlier this summer, Sun inked a pact with Fourbit to build MicroFablet, software that allows developers to deploy applications across a range of client devices, including desktops, Palm devices, and Web phones.

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