Open-source firm dips into services SOUP

Summary:While tech kingpins rush to one-up each other in introducing Web-delivered software, Ximian is doing work behind the scenes.

While tech kingpins such as Microsoft and Oracle have rushed to one-up each other in introducing Web-delivered software, Ximian is doing work behind the scenes to make sure Web services can run on the Linux and Unix operating systems.

Ximian, an open-source software company formerly known as Helix Code, believes it can help achieve Web services compatibility by porting the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) distributed-computing protocol to the Gnome user interface for Linux and Unix systems. Ximian and the Gnome project were both launched by open-source evangelist Miguel de Icaza.

The goal is to allow Web-delivered software--such as the much-touted Microsoft.Net strategy--from different companies to work on all operating systems, from Windows to Unix and Linux. Ximian has dubbed its resulting technology "SOUP," not an acronym but a play on the SOAP name.

SOAP, in and of itself, is an interoperability mechanism, explained Aaron Skonnard, an author and trainer with DevelopMentor, a company that trains individuals in distributed-systems technology. "Toolkit interoperability is more of an issue than SOAP interoperability," said Skonnard. "As long as tools are 100 percent SOAP compliant, there’s no problem, but people aren't implementing 100 percent to spec."

"This is another step in the progression of SOAP," said Aberdeen Group analyst Dana Gardner. "SOAP originally was pooh-poohed as being too tied to Microsoft. Now, it's allowing interoperability to move beyond theory into reality."

Ximian has also put a premium on compatibility.

"We're making it so you can write services in the Linux environment and bring them to the (Microsoft) .Net platforms, as well as do the reverse," said de Icaza.

"We think Microsoft.Net looks sweet," de Icaza continued. "Microsoft is supporting SOAP for creating .Net services. But we will let these services become available to Linux."

Web services are software applications delivered as a service over the Web. They can be standalone or integrated. They can be simple, such as automatically updated stock tickers, or more complicated, such as geographically- and device-aware travel services that could reschedule travelers on later flights before their late connection hits the ground.

But the full promise of Web services won't be realized unless services developed for one software maker's environment will work with those developed using tools and software from another company.

That's where Ximian's SOUP could come into play.

SOAP is an XML-based protocol designed to share data in a distributed computing environment. Just about all the companies creating Web services environments are backing SOAP and are making it a foundation layer for their software. XML (Extensible Markup Language) is a popular Web standard for businesses to exchange information via the Web.

Microsoft, for example, is making upcoming versions of its software development tools and operating systems compliant with SOAP as part of the Microsoft.Net initiative. And Sun has made SOAP support part of its Sun ONE Web services initiative by including SOAP as one of the Web standards it will support with its Web-based office productivity applications, called Sun ONE Webtop (formerly known as StarPortal).

Gnome is desktop user interface--including desktop applications, utilities and games--that runs on the most popular Linux distributions and is being ported to many flavors of Unix. Ximian sells a commercial version of Gnome and is working on other open-source services, such as its Evolution groupware/messaging software.

SOAP was developed by Microsoft, DevelopMentor and UserLand Software, with later backing coming from IBM, Lotus, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems and others. Toolkits for SOAP already exist for a number of programming languages, including Visual Basic, Java, Python and Perl. And the SOAP developers have submitted the SOAP specification to the Web standards group, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), for standardization.

Ximian is creating a tool that will allow Web services written for Linux to be compiled for SOAP. De Icaza said the compiler could be available to developers within two months. A compiler changes the software code into language a computer can understand, allowing the computer to run the program.

The company also is writing some gateway software that will allow Web services that are written to comply with Gnome's Bonobo object architecture to talk to SOAP clients and servers. Ximian plans to incorporate this middleware into the Gnome 2.0 desktop and its Evolution groupware later this year, de Icaza said.

Ximian is being neither helped nor hindered in its efforts by Microsoft or other SOAP backers, de Icaza said.

Microsoft representatives said the company is aware of Ximian's work but declined further comment on the significance of SOUP to Microsoft.Net. They noted that a number of companies are developing tools for making Microsoft.Net available on platforms other than those sold by Microsoft.

Some industry watchers had expected Linux software maker Corel to end up porting the Microsoft.Net framework to Linux. Corel had offered to do so, as part of its terms for accepting a $135 million investment by Microsoft last fall. Neither Microsoft nor Corel would comment on whether or not Microsoft was interested in Corel doing such project.

Topics: Microsoft, Linux, Operating Systems, Software

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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