Microsoft plays XML politics
MICROSOFT MOVED TO put two smoldering business problems to rest this week with the demise of its My Services initiative for consumers and the signing of a Web services security pact with IBM and VeriSign.
The elimination of Microsoft's MyServices offering for consumers -- considered a potential competitive threat to its existing enterprise customers -- frees Microsoft to more aggressively market its XML technologies.
Microsoft is expected to repackage the technology used in My Services to create the equivalent of an XML application server that will be tightly integrated with Windows XP servers.
Microsoft officials said that some time next year, developers and corporate users will be able to take all or some of .Net My services and related infrastructure products and create new services that, for instance, would allow them to tie together data from multiple sources both inside and outside the firewall.
"What we want to do [with .Net My Services] is provide a general-purpose platform that allows users and developers to easily build and deploy new Web services," said Adam Sohn, product manager for .Net platform strategy at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.
Sohn said Microsoft is abandoning neither its consumer nor its business .Net My Services initiative but is shifting its approach to allow multiple service providers to host services.
"Instead of there being one big cloud or datacenter being hosted by Microsoft, there will be multiple smaller clouds hosting these services such as ISPs and other providers right out of the box," Sohn said.
The demise of My Services for consumers also cleared the path for Microsoft to embrace a proposed Web services security protocol put forth by IBM and VeriSign and in so doing made it more likely that Microsoft technologies will be integrated into the forthcoming Project Liberty authentication effort that is being driven by IBM, Sun, Nokia, and a host of other vendors along with enterprise customers such as General Motors, MasterCard, AOL Time Warner, NTT Docomo, and Sony.
WS-Security is a jointly developed security specification that defines a set of SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) extensions to help customers send and receive encrypted and interoperable Web services applications.
WS-Security will serve as the first salvo for a proposed IBM and Microsoft "road map" to outline a group of additional Web services security specifications that will be developed with customers, partners, and standards organizations to be plugged in to future security schemes, said Bob Sutor, e-business director at Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM. Six of the other proposed specifications are WS-Policy, WS-Trust, WS-Privacy, WS-Secure Conversation, WS-Federation, and WS-Authorization.
Sutor said the road map is designed to integrate with emerging Web services authentication and identity management solutions, such as Kerberos, Microsoft Passport, PKI (public key infrastructure), and efforts by the Liberty Alliance.
But Eric Dean, chairman of the Liberty Alliance and chief information officer at United Airlines, said IBM should first look closely at the type of infrastructure needed to support Web services before embarking down a Pied Piper road.
"I think that not many of us actively involved in [Web services security], use IBM software in the immediate space of what we're talking about," Dean said. "IBM should check the marketplace and who buys equipment from whom before they take those kinds of positions. [Sutor] probably didn't have time to talk to any of his customers, and I rest my case," he added.
IBM and Microsoft are pushing their own standards implementations that may run into interference with "open" standards groups such as the W3C (World Wide Consortium) and IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force).
But companies such as Sun are wrestling with their positions on emerging standards bodies, including IBM's WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization), which are driven largely by vendors.
"WS-I is not a standards body," said Hal Stern, CTO of Sun's iPlanet e-commerce solutions, during an interview at InfoWorld CTO Forum 2002 in San Francisco this week. Stern said in contrast to established organizations such as the JCP (Java Community Process), which "produces results," the WS-I "produce theory."
Peter Urban, senior analyst at Boston-based consultancy AMR Research, said that having IBM and Microsoft essentially push their technologies through standards bodies results in a faster time to market for Web services.