Tech Industry

Commentary: Web standards still hindered

IBM's and Microsoft's announcement is a step along the right road, but many obstacles remain before a true industry standard for enterprise Web services is established.

By Yefim Natis, Gartner Analyst

IBM's and Microsoft's announcement is a step along the right road, but many obstacles remain before a true industry standard for enterprise Web services is established.

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New Web spec has Microsoft, IBM blessing

The announcement of a new Web standard that will allow businesses to find one another's services over the Internet is crucial in supporting the software industry's drive toward subscription-based software and services over the Web. WS-Inspection, the fourth Web service standard created jointly by Microsoft and IBM, continues IBM's role as the software industry rainmaker.

IBM's innovations propelled PCs into a new era of computing. Its endorsement moved Java from the Web-client arena to the broad enterprise presence it now enjoys. With Web services, IBM's endorsement has helped to create an uncontested model for Internet-distributed computing. From that point of view, its continuing collaboration with Microsoft--the originator of Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL)--will remain the necessary foundation for the evolution of Web services from vendors' labs to enterprise servers.

Gartner expects that in the next six months, IBM and Microsoft will endorse more standards for Web services and help submit them to standards bodies for adoption. However, the key next-generation standards for enterprise-class Web services--namely, process management, security and integrity--remain undefined. IBM and Microsoft have worked for more than six months to merge their respective process-management specifications, so far without success. Microsoft has suggested security specifications without an IBM endorsement, and a proposal for integrity standards has not yet reached public view.

Agreement on specifications clearly indicates an alignment of business strategies by Microsoft and IBM, but it does not necessarily guarantee full compatibility. A lot depends on the quality and completeness of the specifications themselves. In many cases in the past (with Distributed Computing Environment, Common Object Request Broker Architecture and Java 2 Enterprise Edition, for example), vendors' agreements on standards did not result in fully portable implementations, despite the overall positive effect of the agreements. In some cases (such as Microsoft's implementation of its Kerberos security standard), compatibility problems remain, despite the use of a common specification.

The best assurance of compatibility is the certification of products. But the World Wide Web Consortium, IBM and Microsoft have not yet stepped forward with a proposal or a commitment to provide these certification processes. In fact, no organization has been created that could become a logical, independent body able to promote and protect Web service standards as a complete platform-independent set.

(For a related commentary on Web service, see Gartner.com.)

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