For me, the most remarkable feature of Web services is that, in their current form, they show more evidence of being an art form than solid technology. A kind of nebulous impressionism occupying space between Dali and Picasso and promising the swift arrival of an Alice in Wonderland Internet architecture. One involving imagination, XML and large numbers of invisible flying pigs.
It all started when Sun Microsystems decided that Microsoft shouldn't have it all its own way when it came to making sweepingly vague pronouncements about the future of the Internet. After all, thought Sun, "We can do this, too." We'll call it Jupiter or Smart Services and take the "gadgets-everywhere" initiative back from Microsoft.
Sun is a smart big-box hardware company and clearly understands that the future is less about huge servers and more about increasingly cheaper server appliances and clever software. In fact, the next Sumo-sized contest is all about control of the software architecture that will dominate the next phase in Internet evolution. The hardware choice is irrelevant or, as Sun CEO Scott McNealy put it, "Software is simply a feature of hardware."
Sun is, however, on rather shaky ground with Smart Services and Microsoft, in advance of Sun's "smoke-and-mirrors" equivalent to its own .net conjuring act, obligingly circulated 15 depleted-uranium covered, "concerns" over its rival's plans. The list is posted on my Web site at www. drmoores.com.
Both companies are looking to exploit XML but Microsoft sarcastically questions Sun's commitment to Web services, which it views as little more than XML-based interactions, between systems. "Does this mean it is abandoning Enterprise Java Beans and RMI as the glue between systems?" asks Microsoft.
"Can Sun actually believe in XML for messaging? Doesn't Sun's embrace of Web Services signal the end of Jini because Web services implies some kind of XML interaction between systems, whereas Sun's own Jini strategy was predicated on Java objects communicating via RMI?"
Leaving its best shot to last, Microsoft quips, "How did a research project for connecting refrigerators to the Internet become a central element of Sun's Web Services strategy?"
There is irony in seeing Microsoft's attempt to cross-examine any company's plans for the future of the Internet. Rather like a president pursuing an aggressive foreign policy to distract voters from troubles at home, Microsoft's .net is still very much a framework for an uncertain future. However, Sun's plans appear even flakier and Microsoft was never slow to seize any opportunity to cut its closest rival down to size.
Simon Moores is chairman of The Research Group