Open-source players express Web services doubts

Discussing the topic of Web services, a panel of executives from open-source companies expressed a degree of confusion about Web services that is not uncommon in the industry.

The discussion kicked off the second day of InfoWorld’s Next-Generation Web Services conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

“I’m a little skeptical about Web services to begin with. Part of the problem is trying to understand what a Web service is,” said Larry Augustin, CEO of VA Linux Systems, based in Fremont, Calif.

Taking that sentiment one step further, Brian Behlendorf, CTO of CollabNet Inc., in Brisbane, Calif., said that it is not quite as easy, for all participants, to give away a Web service as it is to hand out open-source code.

“I share everybody’s skepticism,” said Bob Marcus, formerly CTO of Boulder, Colo.-based Rogue Wave Software Inc. “The key thing is what’s going to happen with Passport and Project Liberty.”

Marcus said that he thinks the most important factor in the Web services battle ultimately will come down to how fast Microsoft Corp. builds up a bigger user base of Passport and how quickly Sun and the Liberty Alliance members can come up with technology from Project Liberty.

Naturally, there was a healthy dose of skepticism aimed directly at Microsoft, particularly around the issue of controlling the data the company stands to collect from Passport and .Net My Services.

Drew Spencer, CTO of Caldera Systems Inc., in Orem, Utah, said that Passport offers a really compelling reason for people to use it in that users will neither need to remember a multitude of usernames and passwords nor have to enter their information into different Web sites. Furthermore, having all the .Net My Services information, such as calendar and contacts, stored in the cloud means that if users lose a system for whatever reason, they will still be able to access their data.

Marcus added that those very advantages create a need for Microsoft to have a repository of all the data collected from such services. “That’s going to be one of the prime targets for hackers in the next few years,” Marcus said.

Panel members agreed that most likely the authentication services being batted around today will be improved significantly in the next few years, and the ones that are finally used may not resemble Passport all that much.

“The next generation is where we’ll learn,” Augustin said, adding that the industry will make mistakes initially, but create solid technology by the third generation.

Looking toward the future, panel members said there is still work to be done on Web services, particularly around standards and XML schemas within specific industries.

“Web services is still in the visionary phase, and if you’re thinking about doing something with Web services, it’s important to separate the vision from the technology,” Marcus said.

Spencer jumped in that Web services will be a lasting technology. “There is something there; it’s not just a flash in the pan,” Spencer said.

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