Lotus lets developers test Web service waters

Lotus Development Corp. will use its DevCon 2001 developers gathering next week in Las Vegas to tear the shroud of mystery from Web services, announcing availability of a kit designed to let developers expose Web services on Lotus' collaboration and messaging products.

Lotus' Web services enabling kit will include example code, white papers, and instructions for how to use existing Lotus product APIs to write a SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) interface for a Web service, according to Carl Kraenzel, technology strategist for worldwide development at Lotus, in Cambridge, Mass.

"We are coming to DevCon to demystify the buzzwords. We will let the developers sink their teeth into Web services right now," he said. "With Microsoft, you hear them say '.NET is coming.' We are saying to our customers, 'The products and the APIs that you already have, you can use now. There is no reason to wait for a massive new infrastructure.' "For example, leveraging APIs in the Knowledge Discovery Server, developers can use the kit to create a knowledge management Web service that allows a business partner to look up subject-matter experts in your company, Kraenzel said. As another example, he cited using the presence-aware instant messaging capability in Lotus Sametime to let customers know if your consultants are available online.

According to Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston, the presence-detecting function of instant messaging will help give Web services a direct path to users.

"Presence-oriented collaboration will be important to take advantage of the first incarnation of Web services," Gardner said. "If I want to get an alert form a loosely coupled application over the Web, the application needs some sense of my context. Presence is a key ingredient to providing information about user context. This brings a new level of urgency and immediacy to applications by being able to reach people based on where they are present."

Executives at DevCon also plan to outline how Lotus products fill out IBM Corp.'s Web services vision. Countering Microsoft Corp.'s .NET platform strategy, the Lotus-IBM one-two punch will lay out a platform independent bridge to Web services, according to Kraenzel.

"We've been doing work to make Domino and IBM WebSphere work together," he said. Lotus and IBM technologies will create a "platform-agnostic approach. Other major vendors in this space want you to take a platform-centric approach. We feel that as soon as you do that you put handcuffs on the standards."

Embedding support for Web services into Lotus products is on the road map, although company officials declined to set specific dates. "When the ink dries on the standards and once we see what customers are doing we plan to put core support into products," Kraenzel said.

For its part, Microsoft officials said its Exchange Server fits into the .NET strategy much like other enterprise servers, such as SQL Server, Commerce Server, and BizTalk Server. Specifically, collaboration and instant messaging will enable the delivery of some Web services, but the underlying mechanism is XML Web services, said Barry Goffe, lead product manager for .NET at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.

"Instant messaging is a beneficiary of the underlying infrastructure, it's not the delivery infrastructure itself. It is a part of our strategy, but its just one piece of the puzzle," Goffe said.

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