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Microsoft and Web Services

Posted by pbrittan on September 22, 2003 at 10:06 AM PDT

Web Services are a way for Microsoft to leverage the existing base of J2EE without having to do anything to support Java explicitly.

In his article, "Why Microsoft needs IBM this time around", Mike Ricciuti argues that "Microsoft needs IBM to legitimize .Net and its entire development plan as a truly cross-platform strategy." While I think that both IBM and Microsoft sincerely want to make a case for the power of Web Services and to demonstrate that it is a cross-vendor effort, I think that neither does Microsoft needs IBM to help drive sales of .NET nor does IBM have any interest in legitimizing .NET.

Web Services and .NET are two very distinct things. Web Services is an open standard for programs to exchange data over a network. .NET is Microsoft's proprietary application development and deployment framework that happens to use Web Services as part of its approach. IBM can support the former without supporting the latter.

Web Services are in fact starting to take off. A number of customers that I work with have started to adopt Web Services as both an internal IT transport layer and even also as a way to make content available to business partners (in very contained ways so far). The fact that Web Services have not yet completely transformed the world by seamlessly interconnecting all supply chains and other business partner relationships is simply a result of:

  1. the fact that it take a long time to adopt any new technology, and Web Services is still very young in the grand scheme of things.

  2. there are still a lot of issues with Web Services that need to be worked out to make them practicable in the large. Specifically, Web Services need more management, orchestration, transactional efficiency, and security support. These are exactly the areas in which IBM and Microsoft made a commitment last week.

.NET is also being adopted, even without companies necessarily buying into the grand plan for Web Services. So far .NET’s success has primarily been a tools success -- Visual Studio developers are upgrading to Visual Studio .NET. However, I have come across several large Java-oriented enterprises that are now planning on building .NET Smart Clients to their J2EE back-ends because they feel that Java has not given them a viable alternative on the front end.

I suspect that Microsoft's peculiar interest in Web Services is a way to leverage the existing base of J2EE installations in the market without having to do anything specific to support J2EE (which would be anathema to MS). I have argued in an earlier entry that Microsoft plans to use its domination of the desktop to push the client side of .NET and then to use the domination of client-side .NET to push server-side .NET. The challenge that Microsoft faces is that many large corporations currently have big investments in J2EE -- if Microsoft forced them to turn their backs on those investments in order to adopt .NET, then client-side .NET would face a lot of extra friction in its adoption. Microsoft can erase that friction with Web Services and then tackle the server-side (i.e. head-to-head competition with J2EE) as Phase 2 of its strategy.

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