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Companies Team on Web Services Transaction Spec

A group of companies has teamed to publish a Web services transaction framework proposal without two of the major purveyors of standards in the continuation of a polarization trend in the software industry.

Without Microsoft or IBM, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Arjuna Technologies, Fujitsu Software and IONA Technologies said they have published a draft of the Web Services Composite Applications Framework (WS-CAF), a collection of three specifications geared to solve problems that arise when disparate Web services are used together to support information sharing and transaction processing (TP).

The specification highlights a trend where major vendors such as Sun Microsystems and Oracle work together on laying the foundation for Web services, along with help from smaller companies, while Microsoft and IBM continue to hammer out their own rules and specifications that perform similar functions.

Analysts fear such diversion will only cripple the evolution of Web services, which allow disparate applications to communicate with each other.

However, the new, three-piece protocol, which includes Web Service Context (WS-CTX), Web Service Coordination Framework (WS-CF), and Web Service Transaction Management (WS-TXM), addresses a vital function in the software industry -- receiving and processing business transactions, such as purchase orders via the Web.

Problem is, businesses rely on transactions to operate, but use disparate architectures, which limits interoperability and creates incompatible TP networks. WS-CAF proposes to solve the TP information management and sharing problem.

The trinity of specs share some things in common with previously announced specs such as ebXML and certainly rubs shoulders with the WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction schemas from Microsoft, IBM and others. How are they different?

ZapThink Senior Analyst Ronald Schmelzer said WS-CAF is focused on the B2B-oriented transactions, which is a more focused and specific problem than the more general reliable, transacted processes solved by the WS-Transaction and WS-Coordination specs.

Schmelzer and his colleague, ZapThink Senior Analyst Jason Bloomberg, called this issue another case of vendors chopping up a particular problem into small pieces.

"In essence, this is a "divide-and-conquer" strategy," Schmelzer told internetnews.com. "By dividing up a much larger, more significant problem area into more minute problem areas, these vendors (that are struggling to become Web Services leaders) are hoping to sway users into particular implementations that use their specs, which of course, IBM and Microsoft will simply not support."

Bloomberg said the announcement of WS-CAF, begs the question as to what Sun, Oracle and the other three companies are up to.

"Are they truly trying to solve customer problems by creating narrow specs that overlap the more general ones that the Microsoft/IBM camp have been issuing, or do they have some ulterior motive?" Bloomberg wondered. "Time and time again, it appears that the anti-Microsoft/IBM contingent are looking to balance these two market behemoths -- maybe to afford customers more choice, maybe to keep the leaders in check, or maybe simply out of sour grapes over not being the market leaders themselves."

WS-CTX is a lightweight framework for simple context management that helps Web share a common context and exchange information; WS-CF is a manages context augmentation and lifecycle and provides the notification of outcome messages; and WS-TXM consists of three transaction protocols that can be used across multiple transaction managers.

The latter spec supports multiple transaction models regardless whether the execution environment is CORBA, Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB), .NET, Java Message Service (JMS), or some combination.

The five authors, supported by Hitachi, will donate WS-CAF to a standards organization such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) or OASIS under royalty-free licensing terms soon.

The WS-CAF can be viewed here.