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Weekly Review: What A Week For Web Services

The dominant event last week for most people in the information technology world was the launch of Microsoft Windows XP, the biggest upgrade to the world's favorite computer operating system since the advent six years ago of Windows 95. But it was also a big week for Web services. When future generations write the history of computing, will they remember WinXP, or will those other announcements overshadow the lasting significance of Microsoft's big product launch?

Web Services Showdown
Microsoft and Sun continue to jockey for the lead in the race for Web services mindshare and eventually marketshare. Meanwhile, other competitors are staking out their own territory. Make your prediction on are where Web services will take us in the ASPnews Discussion Forum
Two days before the razzmatazz of the WinXP launch, Bill Gates stood before an audience in Los Angeles that is much more important for Microsoft's long-term wellbeing than the consumers who will splash out on WinXP-equipped PCs this Christmas. His task was to convince some 7,000 developers gathered at the company's Professional Developers Conference to share its .Net vision for Web services.

The company unveiled its first price list for .Net My Services, the family of Web services formerly codenamed Hailstorm, which are based on technologies such as Passport and Instant Messenger. Developers will have to pay Microsoft for the right to build the services into their own applications, even though Microsoft will also levy a charge for users.

Most developers will pay a flat fee of $10,000 a year plus $1,500 per application, though there is an entry-level rate for small-scale deployments of $1,000 a year plus $250 per app. But developers who require mission-critical grade support will have to pay a much higher rate than either of these, which Microsoft will negotiate on a case-by-case basis.

This is despite the fact that .Net My Services is still in its infancy and is still largely unproven technology. Most of its components will not arrive until 2003, Gates said on Tuesday. Evidently Microsoft is keen to preserve its cash reserves in the meantime.

Microsoft also unveiled plans for a new software development architecture for developing Web services, called Global XML Web Services Architecture, and outlined proposals for four Web services-related specifications that it plans to submit to standards bodies. The proposed standards will beef up support for security, licensing, addressing and routing of Web services transactions.

Yahoo! Flexes Web Services Muscle
But not all the Web services news last week was coming from Microsoft. While Gates was speaking to developers in Los Angeles, Yahoo! was striking at the heart of Microsoft's dominance of the desktop. A new bundle of instant messaging, e-mail, file storage, search and other services called Yahoo! Essentials cleverly piggy-backs onto the hooks that Microsoft has built into its Internet Explorer browser for its own services, and replaces them with Yahoo! equivalents.

The move is one that Gates would have been proud of, if only it had been Microsoft trespassing on someone else's turf. The company has always been wary of AOL as an Internet-based competitor. Now Yahoo! has quietly demonstrated that it too is a canny rival.

Sun Eclipsed, Others Unglimpsed
All of this rather overshadowed Sun's own event the same day to launch its SunONE Web services architecture (see Sun, Microsoft in One-upsmanship Duel Over Web Services). It released a four-CD developer starter kit and a vision based on enabling what it deftly calls Services on Demand. But the evident truth of CEO Scott McNealy's admission in his speech that Sun is "behind on branding" was borne out by the lack of coverage achieved by the launch in comparison to Microsoft's.

All the same, Sun at least managed to do better than two smaller players who may yet have signficant roles to play in the Web services arena.

Progress Software announced SonicXQ, a new platform for managing Web services and integrating them with existing enteprise applications. The product is from the same stable as its SonicMQ Java messaging server, which was announced in a new version last week. Progress is well-known in the ASP industry for its work in helping its software partners transition their applications to the ASP model. It is less well-known for its pioneering work in middleware platforms, which will help smooth the way for its partners to transition onwards into Web services-based applications.

One other interesting launch last week was from BEA Systems , another less-watched but equally keen player in the emerging Web services field. BEA launched a full-fledged portlet strategy that amply illustrates the headlong convergence of content, applications and services in the Web environment (see Partnering Portal Solution Providers).

For those who don't recognise the term portlet, think of the words portal and applet and join the two together. A portlet is a mechanism for plugging a third-party service into a composite Web page. It is easy for developers to use portlets as plug-in components to assemble a rich web-based portal through which users can access a variety of services. BEA's announcement named an impressive 66 partners that have already committed to offer portlets in a gallery that will go live on the vendor's site in November.

This review of the week's news highlights is by ASPnews.com founder and consulting analyst Phil Wainewright. A comprehensive news digest is published every month in the ASP News Review newsletter, available exclusively to subscribers.


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Microsoft, Sun and Progress Software are all listed as industry leaders in the ASPnews ranking of the Top 20 ASP and Infrastructure Providers.