Web standards burnout decried

Over-standardization, royalty-free standards, and browser wars were on the minds of industry dignitaries serving on a panel discussing the future of the Web at the XML Web Services One conference here on Thursday.

Panelists from consulting services, Sun Microsystems Inc., and Layer 7 Technologies covered these and other issues.

“The Web has become synonymous with the Internet, but I think we’re going to see a return to the original diversity” of the Internet, minus command line interfaces, said Jeff Suttor, staff engineer for Web technologies and standards in the Java Web services group at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems.

Suttor had strong feelings about the proliferation of Web standards and royalty-free standardization.

“I think we’re suffering from standards burnout,” and Suttor.

“The problem that I’ve seen with standards is it’s such a good idea that everybody has one,” he said. Suttor joked that there are no more alphabet combinations left for acronyms to represent new standards. He also urged that standards be derived from a community-oriented process and not be imposed in a top-down fashion.

Suttor stressed that standards must be royalty-free, echoing the recent sentiments of other Sun officials. “When I go for a cup of water, I’m willing to pay for the water. I am not willing to pay for a proprietary patent on using a cylindrical device” to hold the water, said Suttor.

“The standards have to be royalty-free,” he stressed.

Anne Thomas Manes, research director at Midvale, Utah-based The Burton Group Corp., said standards organizations and the user community at large should insist on royalty-free protocols. Building technologies on top of protocols and charging money for them is acceptable, but paying money for protocols is “ridiculous,” she said.

UcheOgbuji, moderator of the panel and CEO of Boulder, Colo.-based Fourthought Inc., a software cosultancy, noted that certain Web technologies already have been included in patents and questioned how this reality will affect the growth of the Web.

Paul Freeman, an independent consultant specializing in Java and XML, concurred that legal issues involving patents could cloud Internet technologies and suggested patent reform as a solution. “Do you want to reform the U.S. patent trademark office?” he asked.

Panelists also debated the direction of browsers. “We really need XML browsers rather than Web browsers,” Freeman said.

Sun’s Suttor criticized the use of Internet-sniffing technology to steer users toward a specific browser that may not be of their choosing.

“Imagine you went to Starbucks and you told them your name and they said, ‘We don’t like your last name and you get a [poor] cup of coffee.’ There would be a revolt. Why [then] do we tolerate servers sniffing the user agent?” said Suttor.

“In the future, the Web is going to escape the browser, and I think that’s going to be a very good thing,” Suttor said.

Although panelists debated the merits of the Mozilla browser, Toufic Boubez, CTO at Vancouver, British Columbia-based Layer 7 Technologies, said he believed the browser war was over.

Emphasizing the proliferation of Web services, Suttor said more than a million people were mobilized for an anti-war protest several weeks ago via the Web, with Web services being used to coordinate the activity.

But he had dire words for U.S.-based programmers. “Right now, we’re probably the last generation of North American-based coders. Everything that can be done is being done in other places,” he said.

Panelists also pondered the merits of XForms, which is a proposal before the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for next-generation Web forms.

“I think XForms is so new that it hasn’t had a chance to stretch its legs yet,” Freeman said, adding that XForms could provide competition for Microsoft Corp.

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