BOSTON -- A top strategist with Sun Microsystems Inc. says that vendor-imposed restrictions on the use of developing industry standards are perhaps the biggest threat to the future success of Web services.
During a talk with reporters yesterday that focused on open-source issues, Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology
evangelist, said that even though various companies may develop royalty-free Web services specifications, users should still be wary of them.
Phipps said that, as vendor-driven specifications become de facto standards, vendors -- instead of charging fees -- may force the companies that implement these standards to, for instance, agree to never file suit against the vendors that created them, or agree to never use the specs to compete against their creators.
"It's not about money; it's about control," Phipps said. "Over time, you'll discover that the companies that release these specifications still maintain control of them."
Sun has involved itself in several Web services standards debates and, more often than not, its opponent has been Microsoft Corp. The two vendors have voiced vastly different stances on Web services choreography; Sun favors its own Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), while Microsoft supports the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), a specification it created with IBM Corp.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is currently working to define a single choreography language, and Phipps said the neutral industry group has "done a good job" of refereeing standards debates. However, other consortiums' involvement in standards development, including the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), has prevented any one group from guiding all such efforts.
Sun has also seen its influence on Web services specifications wane in the past few years, overshadowed by an unofficial alliance between Microsoft and IBM. The two collaborated on several specifications, including the widely used Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and they joined with a number of other vendors to form the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I).
While some have speculated that a Microsoft-IBM alliance could threaten the future of royalty-free standards, Phipps said he is surprised that the two have been able to work together as effectively as they have. He said their differences are more likely to come to light as they each market products that emphasize different ways to build Web services, with Microsoft emphasizing its .NET Framework and IBM focusing on Java.
Despite vendors' platform and standards struggles, Phipps said that Web services will prove valuable, even if they are used strictly to ease proprietary data stream connections, because they have helped to establish XML as a common method of loosely coupling applications.
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