Web Services, Part I: Introduction
Motivation behind Web Services
Bill Gates, in his leaflet to Developers & IT Professionals from June 14, 2001, covers the motivation for Web services, and the XML's role in this technology. We point out some of his arguments in this column.
Revolutions are a way of life in the computer industry. Only 20 years ago, the world was still in the mainframe era. Few people had access or used computers, and when they did, it was only through the nearest computer center. Three innovations changed all that: the PC, the GUI, and the Internet. Since then, standards such as HTML and HTTP have exponentially increased people's use of the Internet. This base protocol for viewing content on the Web (and the associated software for browsing this content) grew Web usage to what you are familiar with today. The Web became a key activity in the daily lives of businesses, employees, and consumers.
"Many of us envision an online world where constellations of PCs, servers, smart devices, and Internet-based services can collaborate seamlessly. Businesses will be able to share data, integrate their processes, and join forces to offer customized , comprehensive solutions to their customers. The information you or your business need will be available wherever you are, and whatever computing device, platform, or application you are using."
"That vision has yet to be achieved. In many respects, today's Internet still mirrors the old mainframe world. It's a server-centric computing model, with the browser playing the role of dumb terminal. Much of the information you or your business needs is locked up in centralized databases, served up a page at a time to individual users. Web pages are simply a "picture" of the data, not the data itself, forcing many developers back to "screen scraping" to acquire information. Integrating that underlying data with your business's existing systems is a costly and frustrating challenge."
"Today's standalone applications and Web sites create islands of functionality and data. You have to navigate manually between Web sites, devices, and applications, logging in each time, and rarely being able to carry data with you. Tasks that ought to be simple, such as arranging a meeting with colleagues from partner companies and automatically updating every attendee's calendar, are a nightmare in the best case, and impossible in the common case. This inefficiency is a major source for productivity loss."
As a result of the changes in how businesses and consumers use the Web, the industry is converging on a new computing model that enables a standard way of building applications and processes to connect and exchange information over the Web. This new Internet-based integration methodology, called "XML Web services," enables applications, machines, and business processes to work together in a revolutionary way. The widespread support around XML assures that businesses will cooperate in the Internet-based economy with this XML Web services model.
"At the heart of the solution is XML (eXtensible Markup Language). XML is an open industry standard managed by the World Wide Web Consortium. It enables developers to describe data being exchanged between PCs, smart devices, applications, and Web sites. Since the data is separate from the format and style definitions, it can be easily organized, programmed, edited, and exchanged between any Web sites, applications, and devices. Just as the Web revolutionized how users talk to applications, XML transforms how applications talk to each other."
Microsoft would like to convince us that Web services is the next revolution after the Web and HTTP. Judging from the Sun-Microsoft war on which Web services environment is better, Microsoft may be able to prove it.
Next: How to benefit from Web services