By Mark Driver, Gartner Analyst
IBM's SOAP for Java could potentially become an Internet standard for linking Web-based software.
The IBM software is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for exchanging data. The product is a working version of a communication technology developed by IBM, Lotus Development, Microsoft and others.
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) lets business software programs communicate over the Internet, regardless of the programming model on which they're based.
Microsoft has two reasons to push SOAP. First, introducing SOAP is the first significant attempt by the company to establish itself as a viable provider of enterprise data center technology within environments in which it must coexist with other platforms, such as MVS, AS/400 and Unix, instead of replacing them.
Interoperability and coexistence is a new Microsoft focus and is a cornerstone of its Distributed Internet Architecture 2000 and upcoming next-generation Web services architecture.
Second, SOAP is an attempt by Microsoft to position itself as an innovator in Internet technology--an area that has been a considerable shortcoming of Microsoft.
IBM has similar reasons to support SOAP. The vast majority of large IS organizations will have Microsoft as well as Java platform products.
SOAP enables IBM to position itself as a "bridge" between the two technology camps and minimize the battles concerning Java vs. Microsoft that are raging within many IS organizations.
In addition, SOAP enables IBM to gain the spotlight and gain credit as an innovator in Java technology.
Ironically, IBM has had considerable input into the evolution of many Java technology areas for some time. However, much of the credit and focus for those innovations has gone to Sun Microsystems.
SOAP, among other technologies, enables IBM to demonstrate an innovative vision above and beyond its contributions to the core Java platform.
SOAP will succeed where Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) have failed because it is simple, Internet-friendly, based on XML and is implementation-independent.
SOAP is a very simple protocol that relegates most of the "real" work to an underlying service or component model. It is not a replacement for COM or Enterprise JavaBeans or even CORBA components--it is simply a wrapper technology to make those services more accessible over the Internet.
The ultimate success of SOAP will depend on a critical mass of support from vendors and consumers above and beyond where Microsoft and IBM are able to evangelize.
SOAP will be the first real test of Sun's Java Community Process, as several vendors inevitably will push to include SOAP support directly within the core Java platform.
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