Sunday, 12 January, 2003
More on Web Services
The basic idea behind Web services isn't really new. Over the years I've seen a few IT shops that had standard protocols for their disparate systems to communicate. They all had problems, though, because the protocols were mostly ad-hoc creations not subjected to rigorous design, and weren't very easy to modify or extend. And there was no possible way that systems from company A could talk with systems from company B.
Microsoft's innovation (and perhaps I'm stepping on a land mine using that word here) isn't so much the individual ideas of standard protocols, standard language, automatic data description and discovery, or any such technology. No, Microsoft's innovation here is in tying all of those individual technologies together, filling in the holes with very solid design work, and pushing for standardization so that any program running on any modern system has the same ability to query any other system for information.
You don't need .NET in order to write or access Web Services.
Naysayers and Microsoft bashers will complain (mostly unjustly, in my opinion) about the company shoving things down our throats, strong-arming the industry, or coercing standards organizations. The plain fact of the matter is that our industry has needed something like this for at least 10 years, and no "consortium" has even come close to providing it. Certainly, Microsoft hasn't acted alone in this—they've had the cooperation of many other companies—but without Microsoft, it wouldn't have happened. Microsoft has provided a huge benefit to the industry by spearheading the creation of an open Web services architecture and making it freely available to all. That they stand to make money from selling applications and development software based on Web Services doesn't lessen the benefit that they have provided. To the contrary, it should make them much more interested in ensuring that the standard is complete, consistent, and flexible. From what I've seen of the standards, I believe that it is.