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Web Services For Practical Users

The Liberty Alliance consortium, whose key members include Sun Microsystems , IBM and Intel , released blueprints to help software developers write secure, personalized Web services applications.

The new interfaces include Web services for presence, contact book and geo-location. The specs are meant to be applied on Liberty's Identity Web Services Framework (ID-WSF), a Web services plan that allows partners, customers and suppliers to access key resources and information across corporate boundaries.

The presence service interface describes a way for users to share information that informs service providers when other users are on the Internet or off.

The contact book service plug-in provides a way for users to share contacts from contact books made by multiple vendors. This feature allows service providers to automatically update billing or shipping information.

The third interface is the geo-location service, which describes a way to pinpoint a person's location. This spec also offers native privacy control tools, allowing a location provider to request permission to disclose a user's location on the fly.

Liberty said the interfaces are designed to function together, or individually, giving users more control over the Web services they request.

The group provided one consumer scenario of friends planning a movie trip using distributed computing methods enabled by Web services.

A consumer could call up geo-location service via a mobile phone to find out movie times or locations. When the request comes in, the service provider "recognizes" where the user is and delivers the info.

The user may then use the contact book service to let friends know where he or she is and send out a single message to 20 people. The contact book service may then invoke the presence service to determine how the user's friends want to be contacted, and contact users though their mobile phones, PDAs or laptops.

Though only in draft form, the three specs get to the heart of what Liberty is all about: Providing Web services that not only interoperate with disparate forms of software, but protect the user's identity.

These are primary concerns for purveyors of distributed computing, who bear the burden of proving to service provider customers that their services are safe from the prying eye of hackers, or other malicious perpetrators.

"Identity is a requirement for successful Web services," said George Goodman, president of Liberty Alliance and director of Intel's Platform Virtualization Lab. "Unless identity can be established and secured, no enterprise is going to be comfortable using Web services beyond their organizational borders."