Lather over SOAP

The 14th most popular site on the web, according to microsoft's president, has no user interface at all but merely provides a suite of background e-commerce services to retail sites.Microsoft's Passport site, which provides authentication and payment processing services, is the subject of Steve Ballmer's claim.

The 14th most popular site on the web, according to microsoft's president, has no user interface at all but merely provides a suite of background e-commerce services to retail sites.

Microsoft's Passport site, which provides authentication and payment processing services, is the subject of Steve Ballmer's claim. If it has achieved such a prominent role before its third full month of operation, then Microsoft's vision of a services-based "programmable Web" demands careful consideration by anyone who plans to be still in business more than a year or two from now.

Enterprise IT architects will do well, however, to scrutinize Microsoft's profession of commitment to the Web standards process in expanding the role of XML to make it the foundation of this vision. Microsoft proposes to add semantics of transaction to XML's present charter of data representation, transforming XML into a unified language of Internet content. But this presumes the industry's acceptance of Microsoft's proposed XML-based SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), which Microsoft executives and developers notably failed to mention at the rollout of Windows DNA 2000.

Why was Microsoft flying SOAP under the radar? It looked much like a pre-emptive strike against the established distributed object interaction standards of CORBA—a vendor-neutral option currently favored 2-to-1 over Microsoft's COM, according to Forrester Research. We also note the apparent difficulties in crucial COM+ load balancing technology, recently dropped from the base version of Windows 2000, which might be a reason that Microsoft is cooking up SOAP.

We believe that a programmable Web based on interoperable standards can change the way business is done between businesses, for the better. But Ballmer's vision of a vast array of services to be bought and sold behind the scenes of our Web sites will only come to pass if service-providing and service-consuming sites stay on speaking terms, without collapsing into an incoherent Babel with each redesign.

Microsoft has said it will walk SOAP through the standards process. We're watching.

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