Web services standardization advances

Web services standardization is advancing on several fronts, including choreography and intellectual property concerns, a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) official said in an interview this week.

The official, Dave Hollander, chairman of the W3C Web Services Architecture and XML Schemas working groups, stressed that standardization is needed to avoid a situation similar to what happened with the Web browser face-off between Microsoft Corp. and Netscape of a few years ago.

Once the industry settles on standardization for Web services ingredients such as messaging and security, the industry can move forward with advanced concepts such as the semantic Web, a more intelligent Web that requires less human intervention for transactions, he said.

Hollander also is CTO at Contivo Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., which offers a design solution for integration projects.

"Certainly, the overriding issue from my perspective is Web services is an emerging technology that is going to have significant impact and how do we keep us from [what happened] during the early days of the Web," Hollander said.

Development of a complete Web services architecture will take time because of the complex problem it solves, according to Hollander. "The Web relies on humans to add intelligence. Web services in its long-term, ultimate vision takes computers to do that," he said.

Hollander expressed hope that the "semantic Web" concept eventually could come to fruition. The semantic Web would feature intelligence in which processes and data change automatically, based on pre-set parameters, without requiring human intervention.

The architecture working group, meanwhile, is developing a complete Web services architecture to enable, for example, easier assemblage of complex transactions, such as assembling a travel itinerary that includes credit card processing and hotel and airline reservations, Hollander said.

This is possible today, but much of the infrastructure is not based on standards, Hollander said. "You end up creating multiple variants of the Web service, Hollander said.

In the area of intellectual property, in which vendors are expected to relinquish royalty rights for any patents used in developing a specification, Hollander said he believes issues are being cleared up in relation to the advancement of the proposed SOAP 1.2 specification.

"The intent is there," to clear up the issues, Hollander said.

Two vendors, webMethods Inc. and Epicentric Inc., had said they may have patent rights on specific technologies related to SOAP 1.2 and may be entitled to royalties. But Epicentric, which was acquired by Vignette Corp. last week, has signed off on this and is no longer stating it may have specific patent rights. webMethods declined comment this week.

Hollander acknowledged the W3C is preparing a recommendation to form a working group to address the multitude of Web services choreography specifications proposed. Choreography involves managing interactions between multiple Web services in transactions.

IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and BEA Systems Inc. have led the charge on a proposal called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS) while Sun Microsystems Inc. has offered up its Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI). W3C is expected to build an industry consensus on choreography based on these and other proposals.

Hollander said that between SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI, there already is a good foundation for having systems communicating with each other over the business Internet.

"Next, we need to start adding higher level capability including choreography, reliable messaging, some concept of transactions," said Hollander.

Security also is important, and that is being worked on at OASIS, he said.

This week, officials at webMethods and Siebel Systems Inc., including Siebel Systems President Tom Siebel, said Web services is not a panacea for integration. Hollander agreed with this notion, with reservations.

"The answer is a clear and resounding no. However, it is a significant step forward in that [ Web services] uses universally accessible transport systems for moving messages," Hollander said.

The XML Schema Working Group has just finished the second edition of the XML Schema Description language, which cleans up technical errors in documentation. The group also is looking at requirements for Version 1.1 of XML Schema, according to Hollander.

XML Schemas express shared vocabularies and allow machines to carry out rules made by people, according to the W3C. The schemas provide a means for defining the structure, content, and semantics of XML documents.

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