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Web services market up for grabs

Two surveys show that the market for Web services software is still unsettled and that the battle between .Net and Java rages on.

The battle to control the Web services software market is still up for grabs, according to conflicting results from two recent surveys.

Fifty-eight percent of system integrators--those companies that assemble working business applications from off-the-shelf software--listed Microsoft .Net-based products as their favorite for building Web services programs, according to a survey of 44 companies conducted by Gartner Dataquest.

But another Gartner survey of 138 corporate customers who have hired or plan to hire systems integrators showed that 39 percent favored products based on the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification, the rival to .Net in the Web services world. Such products are sold by IBM, BEA Systems and Oracle, among other companies.

Web services is a way of designing and building software to enable easier linking of incompatible systems. All major software makers have announced Web services strategies.

Gartner analysts said the apparent contradiction is a reflection of the Web services market's immaturity. When looking for Web services technology, companies tend to go with what they already know.

"Companies...look at Web services from a vendor that they already have installed," said Joanne Correia, vice president of Gartner's Software Industry Research Group.

Also, J2EE is closely tied to Unix, which is already popular among many large companies. "The higher-end, mission-critical operations are usually running on Unix. And that's where you see J2EE doing better," said Correia.

System integrators' business relationships with various software makers could also skew results, Gartner said.

Gartner also pointed out that although systems integrators are typically building Web services programs for use within a company, many businesses are looking at Web services as a way to link multicompany applications. That has been a growing trend in recent months as Web services has become more popular.

According to market projections from IDC, the total value of the Web services market will reach $21 billion by 2007. Although only 5 percent of companies completed Web services projects in 2002, more than 80 percent are expected to have some type of Web services project under way by 2008, IDC predicted.

The survey of systems integrators in North America, such as CSC and HP Services, was completed in September. It showed that 58 percent of respondents favored Microsoft .Net, while 40 percent selected IBM's J2EE-based WebSphere application server, and 31 percent chose Oracle's 9i Application server as their platform of choice.

The survey of enterprise customers, competed in August, showed that 33 percent were either using or planning to use a systems integrator that relied on Microsoft .Net, while 39 percent said they were using or planning to use a system integrator that specialized in J2EE technology.

The survey also showed that larger companies tended to favor J2EE, while smaller companies favored Microsoft .Net.

Web services technology has debuted in fits and starts over the past two years. Microsoft's own executives have said its .Net plan has been slow to catch on. A key part of Microsoft's plan, an update to its server version of Windows, has been delayed three times and is now slated for debut in April.

Meanwhile, the J2EE 1.4 specification, which was expected to debut by March, has been pushed back until the summer to provide for Web services interoperability guidelines. J2EE will incorporate Web services protocols, which serve as a set of standards to allow disparate computing systems to communicate with one another.