Head in the clouds

Sun's failure to participate in the WS-I does little to instill confidence in Web services interoperability

INTEROPERABILITY HAS been the ruin of many an enterprise endeavor, and the bane of existence for most IT professionals during the years. For Web services, it will be a fundamental tenet to fulfilling the promise of easy application integration and will ultimately determine the rapidity of adoption.

IBM and Microsoft, among other industry notables, recently launched a new consortium named the Web Services Interoperability Organization, (WS-I). The group is aiming to set guidelines for Web services development based on compliance with standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

With different versions of SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) clouding the horizon, WS-I guidelines appear to clear the way for Web services interoperability to have a productive future.

But Sun remains a holdout. Whether Sun's behavior is akin to being a bully in the schoolyard unable to get along with his or her peers, or a meek student attempting to safeguard against being bullied, remains a matter of perspective.

Maybe Sun has a far grander plan. Perhaps the company is retaliating for Microsoft's rebuff at joining the Liberty Alliance, an effort aimed at promoting a unified standard for user authentication that stands as a counterpoint to Microsoft's own Passport mechanism. Whatever Sun's motivation, it just doesn't matter.

Why? Because the corporate bottom line is becoming less and less tolerant to the political struggles among vendors, which continue to disrupt technical progress. And as self-serving as Microsoft's participation may be, WS-I will ultimately be a good step toward helping the Windows juggernaut make amends with the Java community.

To date, Web services have been largely driven by media hype (guilty as charged) and user expectations. Although this does not diminish the ultimate impact that services-oriented architectures will have, the WS-I can help shore up the confidence of IT and business executives by showing that the vendor community endeavors to live up to the hype.

Certainly, Sun does not need to join the WS-I to warranty its interoperability with standards set by the group. But Sun's participation will be key to the success of WS-I, and it will go a long way toward demonstrating the commitment among major vendors that businesses are looking for.

A lot of elbow grease has been pumped into the formation of Web services during the past few years by both IBM and Microsoft. Maybe now would be a good time for Sun to step up and be heard as well. Let Sun flex its muscle and demonstrate to this consortium what community process is all about.

For more about the WS-I, visit www.ws-i.org .

What's your opinion on the direction of Web services? Who's bullying whom? Write me at james_borck@infoworld.com and let me know.