Web services is a technology hot topic. In the last six months it has gained prominence as a result of industry giants - Sun, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, Novell and SAP - evangelising their respective Web services initiatives.
Each claims that its Web services initiative is the way of the future and that the company's solution is "open". However, with each of the main Web services players defining open standards differently, this leaves many users perplexed over the true meaning of open standards. Certainly people are concerned how the various Web services on offer can inter-operate. More importantly, these "standards" could actually be inhibiting the uptake of Web services.
In the rush to proclaim their Web services as open, some companies are defining "openness" as adherence to Internet standards such as SOAP, UDDI, HTML and XML. "Open" standards can hardly be considered open if they are vendor driven and have yet to be ratified by the industry.
There is an inherent danger within such a standard. Vendors could change it instantaneously without prior consultation with businesses that have adopted their Web services offering. Furthermore, such businesses run the real risk of being tied not only to the vendor's software development cycles but also their licensing policies and other IT dependencies such as mandatory software and hardware upgrades. On the other hand, ratified standards are credible open standards because they are industry driven, ie a consortium
With the current debacle about open standards, businesses looking to implement Web services today should look beyond standards and instead investigate the methodology and open languages used to develop Web services.
"Openness" in Web services boils down to two simple factors: they must be platform agnostic and have the power to change in a dynamic business world where standards for new technologies are continually evolving. Novell's Net services software is probably one of a handful of Web services offerings that embodies open standards by unifying all types of networks - Internet, intranets, extranets - as one Net across all leading operating platforms.
While open standards will remain important to businessess, users should not neglect other factors that have an impact on the "openness" of the Web service architecture they plan to deploy.
Want another view? Read what technologies Microsoft .Net Developer Group director Mark Greatorex thinks will win the battle to deliver Web services >>
This was first published in February 2003