Web Services

Rising from the rubble of Dot.coms and ASPs, Web Services are the very latest buzzword in eCommerce.




"What in hells name are Web Services?", he asked rhetorically. Unfortunately for you we have no sense of subtle irony here and answer rhetorical questions straight up.

Web services are the latest and greatest "save the world" buzzword from the same word factory that brought you "Dot.com", "New Economy", "eCommerce" and "seamless". As you might be able to guess by now, it's hype exceeds its reach.

Web Services are hosted programs that you "seamlessly" incorporate into your business logic (for a small monthly fee) without effort or reprogramming because they are all based on "Standards" named XML, SOAP, UDDI (and many more). You needn't make any investment because the services run on the providers servers.

The example always given (apparently nobody but Microsoft can think of any others) is a stock ticker. You incorporate the stock ticker Web Service into your financial application and it streams a ticker tape across the bottom of your screen, "seamlessly" provided and continuously updated by a server somewhere in Bangalore.

The biggest overreacher in Web Services is Microsoft, which has, by edict of "Chief Software Architect" Bill Gates, "bet the company" on an ultra-ambitious Web Services scheme called the .NET Initiative. That's pronounced Dot-net.

Unfortunately for his Billness, .NET's keystone My Services universal "single login" security and core services module has already provided us with the first high profile Web Services failure without even any major Web Services having ever been fully deployed.

My Services went down from one of the leading Web Services weaknesses, trust.

  • How do you trust the service provider to stay in business and keep the service you depend on up, even though they are charging you a fee you are willing to pay?
  • How do you trust their servers to run "five nines" and your Internet link to do the same? Any failure will disrupt your business.
  • How do you trust them not to be ripping off your proprietary information through their service?

Lets look at a few other weaknesses. Lets start with XML (eXtensible Mark-up Language). Legions of people who should know better are hailing XML as savior of the world because it is a standard that even Microsoft has sworn allegiance to. These are the lambs leading themselves to slaughter.

In truth Microsoft does love XML. Remember Microsoft's approach to accepted standards - Embrace, Extend, Extinguish. XML has Extend right there in the name. Those claiming XML will rescue us from Microsoft proprietary formats are about to be betrayed.

HTML (HyperText Mark-up Language) is the standard your Web browser uses to interpret and present this page. People tend to think XML is the same thing but for data instead of documents, and to a point this is true, but data is far more complex and varied.

XML has additional structures to define the data and how to handle it. One of these is the DTD (Data Type Definition). All Microsoft has to do is enter a DTD definition that calls for a proprietary parser (included in one of their products) to interpret the data in a particular block of the XML document. Voila! Perfectly standards compliant, and completely useless without a Microsoft product that runs only on Windows.

Would Microsoft do that? They've already stated flat out they will.

Now lets look at integration into business logic. You just can't create simple solutions to complex problems, even by using a lot of explosive devices. Yes, XML will make it a lot easier to integrate services into business logic, but there's no way stuff is going to automagically self-integrate. It's going to take a lot of thought and planning on the part of a business' management and IT staff. If you're going to go to that much trouble - see "trust" above.

Microsoft plans to get around this by creating Web Services in a 100% Microsoft controlled .NET environment (while paying lip service to "cross platform deployment"). Since all the methods and logic are Microsoft's, it should all work smoothly together (so long as you use only Windows). Unlikely, but theoretically possible.

So, what's it good for then? As we see so often, Web Services is good technology and offers undeniably solid benefits. People (and especially the technology press) just expected it will be deployed in a way that approaches science fiction. Web Services will find a very strong place in highly controlled environments - on the company intranet. From there they will expand to B2B (Business to Business) applications between established business partners.

Will there be successful public Web Services? No doubt about it, and if someone could predict what they will be, they would make a fortune. As usual, it'll happen accidentally - and then Microsoft will steal it all, putting the originators out of business.


  • W3C - the standards body charged with XML
  • xml.com - a good place to learn more about XML
  • XML101.com - a good XML tutorial site

Posted: 4-14-02

©Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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