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Big dreams on the longest night of the year...

Posted by johnreynolds on December 20, 2005 at 4:58 PM PST

December 21st is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere. What better time to dream sweet visions for the future?

The past year has seen a lot of progress in enterprise computing. At the beginning of this year I was writing an "elevator speech" on Service Oriented Architecture to introduce the concepts to my IT colleagues:

"This talk will be far more evangelical than technical, and I hope that it will de-mystify SOA for some. I'm sure many of you will say "Duh!" when you read some of the points, but you'd be surprised how many folks just don't get it (yet). "

Today, at the end of the same year, everybody "gets it" and SOA is the "mainstream no-brainer paradigm dejour". The discussion has shifted from "What's SOA?" to "Which Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) should we adopt?".

The other big story of 2005 has to be AJAX (Adaptive Javascript and XML). I first blogged about AJAX in March after witnessing an amazing demo by Dion and Ben. I was wowed by the possibilities, but haunted by:

"memories of pre-custom tag JSP pages... a little puddle of HTML markup embedded in an ocean of Java code (only this time it's JavaScript)"

My fears were unfounded. In a few short months, most of the major frameworks have retooled for AJAX and a whole new generation of AJAX frameworks and tools are on the way.

AJAX and Service Oriented Architectures are fond remembrances of the recent past... What about dreams for the future?

David Gelernter said the following during an interview for the Sun Developer Network:

"Huge numbers of "non-technical" people rely on computers not because they want to but because they have to. The great author and culture-critic George Orwell noted 60-odd years ago (and I noted in Mirror Worlds) that some people like playing with machines; some people don't. People who don't are just barely hanging on today. They need something far simpler, far more powerful than they've got today"

I think that SOA and AJAX are catalysts for the "far simpler future" that most people need. At first glance, you may not see the linkage, but take another look.

Web Services are what makes AJAX sexy. AJAX is what makes Web Services accessible to the masses.

Take a look at some of the incredibly cool things that Jon Udell and others have accomplished using AJAX hacks and Google's Web Services.

As the SOA mindset takes hold, we should see an explosion of web services. As the AJAX toolsets mature, it should become incredibly simple for "power users" to craft tailored solutions from the new bounty of web services. Throw in improvements in service orchestration and choreography (BPEL for People anyone?), and I think we'll see a new generation of Renaissance Artist/Programmers.

In a recent interview, Bill Buxton offered the following scenario:

"The interesting thing is if you can throw a cell phone on a passenger seat, the phone rings, and the phone says to the stereo, "There's a call coming in. Can you turn the music down and can I borrow the speakers? And by the way, can I use the microphone embedded in the steering column?" Now you can just talk hands-free."

Such a future would be great, but it will be greater if it isn't "hard coded" by manufacturers. The better future is one where the "Renaissance power user" is free to wire the services together as they see fit.

In Bill's example, the stereo provides an "audio output" service, the the microphone provide a "voice input" service, and the phone provides several communication and choreography services. The key is to help the "Renaissance power user" discover these services and then to help wire the services together on-the-fly. The pieces of the puzzle exist, the challenge is to make it easier to put them together.

The languages, tools, and devices that deliver this kind of power to the new Renaissance men and women are what I plan to dream of tonight...

Pleasant dreams indeed ;-)

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