Dave Kearns: Like him or not, Larry got it right this time

If there were a competition for the most often maligned software executive, Bill Gates would only beat out Larry Ellison for the title because not enough people know who Ellison is (and doesn’t that just rub Ellison the wrong way!). The Oracle Corp. CEO often has been cited as having the biggest ego in California (a title worth bragging about), and is frequently lampooned when his predictions and pronouncements go, as the Brits say, “pear shaped.” Think about “Network Computers,” for example.

Even when Larry is right (such as his National Identity Card idea), the way he presents it is sure to antagonize not only those opposed to his idea but many of those still sitting on the fence trying to decide which way to jump. A good example is the above quote from Ellison’s keynote address at the recent Oracle Apps World conference. “Web services” really is little more than a buzz phrase right now, appropriated by just about every software vendor who wants to sell you something.

But as Ellison went on to say, “…the idea that Oracle is going to put a Web services interface on its applications, and [that] Siebel is going to do that, and that that’s going to make it easier for you to connect Oracle to SAP, or Siebel to SAP, that’s just the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my entire life.” Hyperbole is usually not too far from Larry’s rhetoric.

But eliminate the bombastic style, concentrate on the ideas, and Ellison has made two very good points.

First, today’s “Web services” are simply a recycling of yesterday’s “peer-to-peer” services, which themselves were almost indistinguishable from “client-server” services. Most software vendors want to be identified with the flavour of the month, so they’ll use the buzz phrases to identify their products – even though the products don’t change!

Secondly, there’s no such thing as a “Web services interface,” and even if there were, vendors would need to do a whole lot more in terms of cooperative computing if they really wanted these services to interact. XML and its brethren will be very useful in this regard, as will the SOAP protocol. But SOAP and XML by themselves don’t define “Web services.” Ellison got it right this time.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.