All the current excitement about Windows Live as a platform is diverting attention away from a crucial component of Windows Vista that could rewrite all the rules about how to develop web-centric applications.
I was reminded of this yesterday in conversation with Sanjiva Weerawarana,
CEO of a software startup called WSO2 that has impeccable web services and open-source credentials. The company this week launched its first product and announced a $4 million investment from Intel Capital. Called Tungsten, the new product is an SOA application server that runs web services natively on Java and will soon have a C version, which will make it possible to run web services natively on Linux, PHP and other popular open-source platforms. The technology foundation for all this comes from several Apache Foundation web services projects including Axis2, which Weerawarana and his co-founders have been intimately involved in developing.
Strikingly for someone so steeped in Java, Unix and open-source goodness, Weerawarana was full of praise for how Microsoft has built native web services plumbing into Vista (using Windows Communication Foundation, formerly codenamed Indigo).
"Vista is the only other platform that is as radical thinking as we are," he told me. Other server vendors are trying to support web services while aiming to protect their existing investments in earlier application server technologies, he explained. "Vista has taken a much more aggressive model." This means a big step-up in interoperability, he added. "It brings the desktop into your network in a much more integrated manner."
The big story here is that it brings Vista into sharp focus as an alternative platform for doing enterprise-class mashups. Why futz about with AJAX or Flex/Apollo when you can do it all using WS-* or REST, and get the advanced client capabilities of Windows Presentation Foundation (Avalon)? Enterprise IT people will warm to that story, because they're the people who've been asking for all the elaborate security and management capabilities that WS-* brings to the web services environment and which are signally lacking from both REST and AJAX.
Weerawarana says that some of enterprises are already warming to WSO2's SOA platform as a standards-based, open-source alternative to paying out millions in middleware licensing and maintenance fees to the likes of BEA, IBM and Tibco. Vista makes the pitch even more compelling, he says:
"These companies are trying to get away from massive banks of proprietary [servers] that were holding them hostage — for example messaging ... Once Vista gets out [this infrastructure] is going to go all the way into the desktop ... therefore it will replace all the proprietary messaging technologies."
When I first wrote about Weerawarana's company last year, what got me interested was the notion of using web services to obsolete a lot of middleware baggage, including J2EE. I don't think Weerawarana is saying that Vista is going to obsolete AJAX — in fact, he told me that WSO2 has developed an AJAX technique for using a browser as a SOAP client to its server (and therefore being able to apply WS-* protocols such as WS-Security to browser-to-server interactions, which sounds like a very useful capability in an enterprise environment). But he does highlight an important aspect of Vista that's often been neglected and makes it a far more substantial contender as a web client platform than most people realize.