The computer industry can't stop talking about it, software makers can't stop promoting it, but there are few instances in which the concept of delivering services across the Web has become a reality. Apple Computer Inc.'s new Mac OS X operating system is one of those.
During a presentation unveiling Mac OS X 10.1 at the Seybold Conference and Expo here Tuesday, Apple executives demonstrated one of several Web services built into the operating system -- an application that allows users to get up-to-the minute weather information displayed on their desktops.
"Using a public Web service, the operating system pulls weather information from a public database," said Sal Soghoian, an Apple product manager for AppleScript, the 10-year old technology that enables Web services like this to work in Mac OS X. Once a user types a U.S. zip code into a small pop-up window, the operating system will send a query across the Web and within seconds return the temperature for that region.
Apple has built several similar Web services into the operating system. For example, there is a service that delivers real-time stock quotes. The company said it will soon post a directory of all the Web services available though the operating system at http://www.apple.com/applescript/.
The technology works based on AppleScript, a commonly used technology built into Mac operating systems, according to Ken Bereskin, director of Mac OS X product marketing. AppleScript is a scripting language that allows developers to write simple commands that can then be carried out on the operating system.
"Mac has been doing this for a decade," Bereskin said. "Now, we've just enhanced AppleScript to talk to Web services."
In the new operating system, Apple has enabled AppleScript to extend those simple commands to Internet sites that host Web services using a number of industry standards. When a user creates an AppleScript command, the operating system then wraps that in XML (Extensible Markup Language) and sends it out on the Internet. A Web service then takes that request and returns an XML-based response, such as a description of weather conditions, which then appears on the user's desktop.
In addition to XML, Apple is embracing many other industry standards that facilitate this process, including RPC (Remote Procedure Call) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). During the keynote Tuesday, Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide product marketing, said Apple's operating system is the "most open desktop you can use today." Much of that is due to the new foundation of the operating system, which is based in part on Unix.
In addition to accessing quick bits of information for the desktop, these Web services can be rolled into a number of software products being developed for Mac OS X. Adobe Systems Inc. Monday released a Mac OS X-native version of its InDesign publishing software. Using the AppleScript Web services, Apple's Soghoian was able to create a weather map of the U.S. in the publishing software that could automatically pull in weather information for each of the major cities listed on the map.
FileMaker Inc.'s FileMaker Pro, a Mac database application, and Microsoft Corp.'s Office version X for Mac, which is due out in November, will also support AppleScript-based Web services. Through those applications, users can build complex databases that can draw real-time information from these Web services.
The operating system also enables users to create their own Web services that can gather data from proprietary databases, using a system similar to Web services that access data from the Internet. Apple plans to release by the end of the year a tool kit, called AppleScript Studio, to enable users to easily build these Web services.
While Apple hasn't garnered as much industry attention as Microsoft in the area of Web services, Apple has beat its industry counterpart to market with this next-generation operating system feature. Mac OS X Version 10.1, which will be available in stores on Saturday, is the first major desktop operating system to market with a broad range of Web services built right into the framework.
Microsoft will implement an early version of its Web services initiative in Windows XP when that operating system is released in October. Formerly called Hailstorm, and now referred to as .Net My Services, that set of Web services will allow users to get instant notifications, sign on to multiple Web sites with a single password, and store data on the Web that can be accessed from multiple computing devices. Microsoft's .Net initiative is the Web-based platform the company is developing to allow other companies to create similar Web services.
"This is real and shipping today," Bereskin said. "It is also a technology that you can put in the hands of people to create real solutions."