Given the choice of watching paint dry or paying attention to the techno-political infighting that goes on within industry standards bodies, most of us would opt for the paint. But when there’s big trouble brewing over Web services — between the Web’s leading standards organisation and the dominating duo of IBM and Microsoft — it’s time to take notice.
Last week, Microsoft dropped out of a working group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), opting, as IBM has, to go its own way in developing a “choreography” standard for Web services. This is bad news for future users of products depending on this particular standard to interoperate.
“The most controversial area in Web standards now is the choreography or orchestration of the services,” says Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer at Iona Technologies and an active member of the W3C. “It’s about how to combine them rapidly and change the combinations to change business processes quickly and create affordable integration.” If Microsoft’s latest move was the only point of standards contention we could all go back to watching that paint dry. But similar fractures have taken place in both the Web services security and messaging arenas. For example, there are two camps pushing a Web service specification for reliable messaging. The original spec, published in January by Oracle, Sun and others, now has a rival from IBM, Microsoft and their supporters.
Whose offering is better? Does it matter? The key reason to standardise is to create a common base of technology from which industry players can then innovate and compete, leaving customers to enjoy an array of product choices. The last place we need another pointless, stupid standards battle is in Web services. Did vendors learn nothing from the Unix wars of a decade ago? From the tangled mess that client/server became?
The first phase of setting Web services standards went uncommonly well, with the swift establishment of the core technologies of XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI. But this second phase we’re now in — where security and reliability must be addressed — is collapsing into a muddle of conflicting vendor agendas.
Adding to the complexity of it all is the proliferation of standards groups circling their wagons around Web services. Along with the influential W3C, there’s OASIS (the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), the IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force) and the newest one, the WS-I (the Web Services Interoperability Organisation).