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Web services: Making connections

A Web service is a software application available over a network that uses a standardized XML messaging system and is not tied to any one operating system or programming language.

A Web service is a software application available over a network--usually the Internet--that uses a standardized Extensible Markup Language, or XML, messaging system and is not tied to any one operating system or programming language.

Web Services technologies enable connections between business applications such as manufacturing and financial management systems. Proponents argue that using Web services to connect software and share information over the Web is far easier than relying on vendors' proprietary interfaces.

Using Web services, companies can, for instance, more rapidly build a supply chain system that links a manufacturer to its suppliers and customers. Ultimately, analysts expect most software to be developed using standard Web services interfaces, so that entire new programs can be constructed from reusable parts.

In concept, Web services technology borrows heavily from earlier proprietary systems like the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and Microsoft's Distributed Compound Object Model (DCOM) models. But Web services use standards, like the Internet itself, to bridge any operating system, programming language or hardware platform, just as the Web itself does.

The major players in the Web services market are IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Oracle, BEA Systems and Hewlett-Packard. Those companies have worked with standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium, large technology buyers and academia to define the basic plumbing and infrastructure of Web services.

Other software makers, including SAP, PeopleSoft, Novell, Computer Associates International and many others have adapted their business application software to use Web services.