Re:Viewing 2002 - Web services

A watershed year
Written by Graham Hayday, Contributor

A watershed year

The web services end game may still be a decade or more away but 2002 will go down as the year when this promising leap in joined-up computing took vital steps forward, not least with user organisations. Graham Hayday casts his mind back... The closest most people have come to understanding what web services might actually mean is Microsoft's .Net advert, in which we see a car buyer order a car in a showroom and change his mind about what colour he wants it to be. The salesman taps away on his PDA and lo: back on the production line the spray colour is changed in real time. This is of course a fictional example - and it's in the realms of fiction that web services largely remain. True, Oracle has around 25 US customers (http://www.silicon.com/a56407) and a survey of UK IT directors and developers recently found 57 per cent are now using either Microsoft's .Net (29 per cent) or Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) software (38 per cent - see http://www.silicon.com/a56606). But the scope of these projects is limited: most of them are about giving business partners or customers remote access to data, and that's only a small part of the potential the technology offers. The most commonly cited example of a 'true' web services project is that between airline US South West and Dollar Rent-a-Car. Book a flight with South West and have your car hire taken care of seamlessly. It's based on .Net, and demonstrates the kind of deep integration web services can facilitate (http://www.silicon.com/a53129). UK online bank Egg has also begun using .Net (a move which didn't go down all that well with our readers given Microsoft's reputation for less than bullet-proof security - http://www.silicon.com/a53128). EDS has rolled out .Net in a New Zealand bank (http://www.silicon.com/a55120). Despite this progress, web services are still in their infancy. Some believe we're 20 years away from seeing the technology commonly deployed (and it won't be until it's commonly deployed that it'll be really useful). Even Microsoft thinks it could be five to 10 years before its take-up reaches critical mass (http://www.silicon.com/a53129). Why the sluggish development? Well, if you take a cursory glance back over the web services stories we've published this year, you'll notice many of them are about three key things: vendor disputes (Sun got caught up in a battle with IBM and Microsoft over membership of the group of vendors steering the technology - http://www.silicon.com/a54245) standards development (without firm standards, only brave - or foolish - IT directors will take the plunge - http://www.silicon.com/a56406 ) and security (http://www.silicon.com/a56846). These three factors have led to confusion - and caution - among potential users of the technology. Nevertheless, 2002 may well prove to have been a watershed year for web services. The arguing has died down, the standards are almost in place and some users are actually getting their hands dirty. Expect more to join them in 2003.
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