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Liberty Alliance vs. WS-I; J2EE vs. .NET; Overwhelmed .YET? Part 1: Latest Announcements

Written By: Predrag Jakovljevic
Published On: March 20 2002

Event Summary

February appeared to be the month in which Web Services earned notable legitimacy. Recently, IBM and Microsoft, the two largest proponents of Web Services, and a slew of other prominent IT companies and enterprises (Accenture, BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Fujitsu, Intel, Oracle, and SAP to name some) have joined to form the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I, www.ws-i.com). The organization's goal is to work with other standards groups like, inter alia, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to make sure standards from one version of Web services development tools will be compatible with the next.

The group will initially concentrate on the following interoperability issues:

  • To profile Web service standards
  • To build industry-specific Implementation Scenarios
  • To build Test Suites and Supporting Materials

Noticeably absent from the members' list was Sun Microsystems that seemingly has plans on its own. Its recent introduction of a counterpart organization, named the Liberty Alliance, was an attempt to gain leadership in the area of identity, authentication and authorization open standards through an alliance that will oppose Microsoft's counterpart "Passport" authentication (single sign-on) efforts.

Another crucial event pertinent to the adoption of Web services should be Microsoft's recent launch of the software development kit, which it claims will begin to deliver some of the promises of its long touted, but yet to be fully clarified .NET strategy.

This is Part 1 of a two-part event note discussing the standardization of Web Services.
 
Part 2 will continue the discussion and makes User Recommendations.

Microsoft's .NET

The long anticipated (nearly four years of development and two years of promotional suspense building) Visual Studio.NET (VS.NET) suite is basically the updated, .NET-based version of the old Visual Studio application development suite. Although it exhibits many of the old features, it also offers tools that will support developments in a slew of languages like Visual Basic, Visual C++ and Microsoft's Java-like C# (pronounced C sharp) language. It is actually a compilation of multiple development languages, including the above-mentioned ones and Visual J#.NET slated for forthcoming months, which may allow developers to use a familiar tool to develop applications for the .NET Framework programming model. In theory, .NET can reportedly embrace every programming language, as all that needs to be done is to compile the language into the Internal Language format to produce valid bytecodes.

.NET is admittedly a crucial development for Microsoft, as the software behemoth's attempt to position itself for the next generation of Web-based applications, referred to as Web Services. It is primarily a development platform, as users will develop applications that conform to .NET and they will supposedly run on any Microsoft OS platform. The product is geared toward building applications and Web services within the .NET Framework, which should automate much of the programming work through its pre-developed scripts and codes. The product comes in three flavors: Professional, Enterprise Developer, and Enterprise Architect.

Microsoft has also added Web Services Toolkits to SQL Server 2000 and BizTalk Server 2002 that link Microsoft's respective database and integration server software into Visual Studio .NET, and that allow them to be invoked by a Web service. The SQL Server Toolkit turns stored database procedures and other data into Web services, while the BizTalk Toolkit links data from enterprise business systems like SAP and other enterprise application vendors into Web services.

In a Microsoft world of anatomy, if the .NET servers are the skeletons, then Visual Studio.NET is how developers will equip it with muscles and tissue. At the launch, Microsoft tried to emphasize that Visual Studio.NET and .NET, in general, are enterprise-level ready. Early reports and experiences of the product suggest its robustness, which may certainly help Microsoft with its main aim - to capture the hearts and minds of developers across the globe, especially in the Java camp.

Java Proponents Respond

That is, however, not going to go uncontested by Java proponents. At the BEA eWorld 2002 conference at the end of February, BEA Systems debuted its new Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) developer toolset called BEA WebLogic Workshop, formerly code-named Cajun. Additionally, it demonstrated the latest version of its application server, WebLogic Version 7 that features support for J2EE version 1.3 and Web services, with improved security, performance, and integration features as well, the integration of its products (application server, portal, and integration products) into a single platform, WebLogic Platform, and, finally, WebLogic for Mainframe application server.

Targeted to developers who are J2EE development novices, WebLogic Workshop provides a visual toolset that should make the intricacies of Java transparent to developers, and enable them to build Web Services applications for deployment on the WebLogic platform. By doing so, BEA is striving to entice corporate developers from the Microsoft fold by providing an intuitive graphical tool for building Java applications and Web services. BEA also announced the dev2dev program to foster the WebLogic developer community. A new developer portal, dev2dev.bea.com, builds on the notable developer resources BEA has gathered to date, and is devised to provide a single point of entry for locating and accessing technical information, tools, support, and community interaction.

Market Impact

There seem to be the following two underlying issues preying on the user organizations' minds:

  1. How real is the concept of Web services?, and
  2. Which technology camp should we pledge the allegiance to?

In simple terms, Web Services are content and software components delivered over the Internet using loosely coupled messaging methods, mostly Extensible Markup Language (XML) interfaces, that "service" certain user needs.

The notion of Web Services, although nascent but quite intriguing for enterprises to pursue, has so far lacked substantiation. Microsoft's being unable to simplify/clarify the definition of its own .NET strategy is partly responsible for this. While generating awareness is important part of the game, backing that awareness with solid proofs of concept is essential.

There has also been much confusion about .NET as a next generation of Windows, as well as about its progress so far. The term ".NET application" also remains at least as vague as the term ".NET." First, it seems that .NET is a platform strategy although at a higher level than Windows operating system (OS), which is a platform itself. Second, the question whether ".NET applications" only leverage .NET Web services, or whether they are applications that provide .NET Web services, or both, cannot be answered that easily either. Confusion is further aggravated with the term ".NET" being associated with products like Enterprise Servers (e.g., SQL Server, Exchange Server, etc.).

Nonetheless, in the .NET dictionary, software applications are also referred to as "Web Services", in a fashion similar to the components of the 1990s. The .NET strategy is Microsoft's view of harnessing Internet based on XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), and it is a view of the next-generation Internet computing environment as consisting of Web Services accessed by devices that interact with other services and content applications. As to achieve the proof of concept for its .NET and Web Services initiatives, Microsoft has had to entice enterprises to adopt its vision, architecture, and essential products and it has had to rally many other software vendors to build complementary solutions and/or to make their existing products .NET-compliant.

VS.NET might be the technology trump that should help Microsoft in its above cause and to put it at least head-to-head with the opponent Java technology. Visual Studio.NET may finally provide Microsoft with a tool to compete on an equal footing with the formidable Java community. Although VS.NET might not necessarily be a significant revenue stream for Microsoft per se, it could potentially result in billions of dollars in related infrastructure sales, making it a major determinant in Microsoft's enterprise applications success.

For companies committed to Microsoft architecture, the release of VS.NET should be a welcome incentive, as it will allow them to get to grips with Web services, and to decide how these can fit within their business models. Moreover, across the application vendors landscape has lately been a slew of announcements of support for VS.NET from those that want to be the next generation of Web Services platform providers.

This concludes Part 1 of a two-part event note discussing the standardization of Web Services.
 
Part 2 will continue the discussion of the Market Impact with comparisons between the Microsoft and Sun approaches and makes User Recommendations.

 
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