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Microsoft Wants Everybody Talking ... via Web Services

While much of the excitement about Web services is about how corporations and e-commerce operations, such as Amazon.com , can use these standard protocols for trading and collaboration, Microsoft wants to get consumer devices like printers and cell phones into the loop.

Longhorn, Microsoft's next-generation version of Windows, will include Web Services for Devices, executives said at the Windows Hardware and Engineering Conference (WinHEC) this week. The specification and device profiles are available now, and will be included in the first beta of Longhorn, expected this summer.

Microsoft's protocol enables easier networking and installation of peripherals. At WinHEC, executives demonstrated how Web Services-Discovery enabled installation of a printer and projector without a search for drivers.

"We support a subset of WSTL [Web services transaction language]," program manager Mike Fenelon told internetnews.com, so that device manufacturers can set up Web services connections directly between the devices they sell and services they provide."

For example, a digital camera or printer manufacturer could enable a Web services call to a Web-based storage and image-editing service, so that someone on vacation could upload pictures without lugging a laptop.

Enabling Web services on devices takes a small amount of Flash memory, said Microsoft program manager Rob Williams. The protocols use SSL for securing transmissions between devices.

"In the past, your only option for networking devices was proprietary protocols that are expensive to develop and maintain," Williams told an audience of engineers and manufacturers. "If you wanted to communicate with third parties, you needed to get them to adopt your proprietary protocols."

Adopting Microsoft's WS-Discovery, he said, would enable OEMs to focus on improving the device itself instead of the networking layer. "Build your competitive advantage in the device, not in the protocol," he told them.

"We're now treating IP as just another bus," said Microsoft product manager Tali Roth, while demonstrating printer reconfiguration. After reconfiguration, when the printer went back on, it sent a Web services notification event to the PC, which notified the driver of the change. "All of this happens in a standardized way, so any device can see these events," she said. "It means no manual configuration as an administrator."

In addition to WS-Discovery, the protocol specs include WSDAPI.DLL, which allows for publishing, finding and consuming Web services resources on a network. Web services-enabled devices also need to have a Web service definition language file that defines what functions the device can use, plus application software to control the device.

Also included is WS-Discovery Microsoft Operations Manager (WSD-MOM) will be implemented and extensible in Longhorn. Microsoft has written print and scan protocols, but Williams said that hardware vendors can create their own. WSD-MOM will be delivered in the Longhorn Driver Kit.

Williams said device Web services would open up new revenue opportunities for manufacturers.

"Now, it's the retailers that sell extended warranties," Williams said. A device manufacturer could notify customers right before the warranty expires via the device interface; or, a printer could notify a customer right before new toner or service is needed.

IBM, Microsoft, BEA and others independently develop specifications for a Web services stack. The Liberty Alliance also is working on Web services for devices, mostly focusing on identity-based Web services.

For example, Liberty's Identity Web Services Framework could define how a WS-enabled camera determined where the owner's photo service was located on the network and how to authenticate to the service once found.

Paul Madsen, co-chair of the Liberty Alliance Technology Expert Group, said Liberty would welcome Microsoft's participation.

"Microsoft has been invited to join a couple of times," he said, "but it hasn't come to the table."