In last week's feature I mentioned that IBM's Web services resources seem to be aimed almost entirely at developers. This is not to denigrate the quality of these offerings. As the list of developer features with a Web service angle indicates, IBM's activity here is nothing if not thoroughgoing.
Among the more technical papers, there are also some that will be suitable for a general readership, notably a good series of articles called Web services insider. Another useful document, if slightly more formal, is a description of IBM's Web Services Conceptual Architecture.
Alongside all these words, there is plenty of code, too. The best place to keep up to date with IBM's work in this area is www.alphaworks.ibm.com/webservices. The free Web services toolkit, with more details available.
IBM is also active in proposing new components for Web services, notably in the form of XML applications. For example, there is the Web Services Inspection Language (click here for background and full specification) and the charmingly named Web Services Experience Language, which is designed to allow providers of interactive Web services to exploit multiple distribution channels.
All this Web services activity bears witness to IBM's diligence, but it is not something that will affect the average business user of the Internet. However, a recent announcement about the company's collaboration with the Globus project may well do.
As I wrote six months ago, Globus is fast becoming the de facto standard for the new area of grid computing (joining disparate processing centres with fast links to create a powerful virtual facility). IBM has been stepping up its involvement with grid computing as part of its general conversion to the virtues of open standards - the Globus Toolkit is open source, and GNU/Linux clusters are frequently employed as a cheap source of computing power for the various nodes of the grid.
IBM's announcement possesses a double significance. First, it signals an important convergence between grid computing and Web services. The fit is good: both are about utilising distributed resources in a co-ordinated and seamless way. In addition, both must support heterogeneous environments, and depend on open standards to provide the glue.
Moreover, both move closer to regarding the entire Internet as a computing platform on which applications can be run - exactly where and how is a technical detail that end-users do not, and should not, need to worry about.
All these issues are discussed in an excellent document called The Physiology of the Grid. The title refers to an earlier paper, The Anatomy of the Grid, written by essentially the same authors, who are all top grid researchers.
The other significant element of IBM's announcement is that it marks a step towards the "gridification" of its existing product range.
Hitherto, grids have been chiefly applied in the scientific computing domain, where software can be written specially to draw on their power. IBM's latest move opens up the possibility of one day running standard enterprise applications on grids. This would provide business with true computing power on demand, supplied by the digital equivalents of today's analogue utility companies.
Next week: The ADSL era?