Web services ready to power up mobile applications

The stage has been set for Web services to start playing a vital role in mobile applications for enterprise networks. Web service development tools are growing more sophisticated as wireless networks become more pervasive and powerful.

This combination will make it easier for enterprise network groups to tie together mobile clients with back-end applications and data.

The potential was illustrated at June’s annual TechEd conference in Orlando, where Microsoft announced the latest pre-beta release of Indigo, the next Windows communications framework for Web services. During a session devoted to Indigo, Microsoft’s Ari Bixhorn, lead product manager for Web services, created a device-based chat application with Indigo in about five minutes. In another demonstration, an Indigo-based application, working with Microsoft’s Media Center software, sent an alert to Bixhorn’s PocketPC smartphone whenever his son turned the TV set to “The Jerry Springer Show.”

Some pioneers aren’t waiting for Indigo to launch mobile applications that use Web services. But it means building from scratch many of the services Indigo will provide as callable class libraries, such as reliable messaging, transaction features and security.

As handheld devices gain still more powerful processors and more memory, and as wireless data nets offer greater throughput and reliability, Web services become increasingly attractive for enterprise users.

“In the handheld device space, Web services enable customers to easily access pertinent information from wherever they are,” Microsoft’s Bixhorn says.

With Web services, mobile devices no longer become a special integration problem. “If I build a Web service on the backend, I don’t have to build two versions of it, one for ‘normal’ clients and one for mobile clients,” says James White, author of Java2 Micro Edition, Java in Small Things. Formerly with discount retailer Target, he’s now an instructor for Intertech Training in Eagan, Minn.

“We were constantly going to the server guys and saying, ‘How can we get these little clients to work with the servers?’ Web services let the server guys implement business functions as they see fit. Then, the clients can deal with those functions as they see fit,” he says.

This kind of virtuous circle of Web services interactions is one of its defining features and one of its strongest attractions. “The beauty of it is, once you’ve built a Web service, you have multiple applications that could use it,” says Jim Hilt, manager of SOA at IBM Global Services in Armonk, N.Y.

As mobile devices become ever more capable, they will not only “consume” Web services, but host or “expose” them, predicts Juval Lowry, principal with iDesign, a San Jose, Calif., consultant in software architecture and an expert in Microsoft .Net. “We’ll be able to do things on those devices, such as peer-to-peer execution and collaboration.”

Intertech’s James White cautions users to be realistic. “We’re finding that Web services are not rocket science, but a lot of [software] infrastructure is needed. For example, how do you register Web services in an enterprise registry? Who has access to that? Who’s the real owner of the service?”

Finally, Web services standards still are “in pretty young and raw form,” White says. “Things like naming conventions, registry standards and so on are all still emerging.”

Related links:

Mobile software provides bigger Office, better surfing

SPRING IDF: Intel to keep users mobile in 2006 and beyond

W3C gets proactive with Mobile Web Initiative

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