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Commentary: A bridge too far?

The point of Microsoft's very early TrustBridge announcement is for the software giant and IBM to beat Sun to the punch in developing standards in Web services.

    By Kristen Noakes-Fry, Gartner Analyst

    Only in the occasionally unreal world of information technology could a product feature that will not be available for at least a year become a "stop the presses" announcement. That's the immediate take-away from Microsoft's breathless announcement of its TrustBridge technology.

    See news story:
    Microsoft unveils Web services security
    Microsoft is earmarking TrustBridge as a security enhancement to its forthcoming .Net architecture. TrustBridge is aimed at streamlining authentication of user identities in electronic communications between companies and applications via Web services standards.

    After Microsoft and IBM refused to accept Sun Microsystems as a founding member of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), Sun went solo. It proceeded to develop its yet-unannounced Web services Liberty Alliance standard as part of the Sun ONE effort. The Liberty Alliance Project initiative has subsequently attracted many big-company members.

    Gartner believes that the point of this very early TrustBridge announcement is for Microsoft and IBM to beat Sun to the punch and appear to be the controlling influence in developing standards in Web services. Sun will likely unveil its Liberty Alliance standard within weeks.

    This struggle to gain leadership by taking control of standards has long been common in consumer markets. However, consumers have often been left in the lurch, needing to abide by the results of backing the wrong "standard," such as the following instances of technological Darwinism:

    • Record players at 78 rpm vs. 33-1/3 rpm vs. 45 rpm.

    • Eight-track vs. cassette-tape players

    • Beta vs. VHS videotape players

    Regardless of the good features outlined by Microsoft in its announcement--and there are several--the real losers here are customers. The risk of replacing your video player pales before the risks of committing to the wrong Web services standards in such areas as security frameworks and identity management.

    Given this standoff, savvy enterprises may want to avoid commitments to products and standards from either WS-I or Liberty--until Sun and Microsoft/IBM experience enough discomfort that they choose to work together.

    (For a related commentary, on WS-I's rejection of Sun Microsystems as a founding member, see gartner.com.)

    Entire contents, Copyright © 2002 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.