Sun readies a Web framework

Late to the Web services game, Sun Microsystems Inc. is preparing a development framework that will enable programmers to build applications accessible via the Internet.

          Late to the Web services game, Sun Microsystems Inc. is preparing a development framework that will enable programmers to build applications accessible via the Internet.

          Palo Alto, Calif.-based Sun plans to give details about its project -- tagged Brazil -- in San Francisco on Feb. 5, a Sun spokesman said. Brazil is still under development at Sun Labs, in accordance with an overall software strategy

          Sun's Brazil framework strikingly resembles those either under development or already available from Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle, and IBM. Unlike those companies, Sun lacks a cohesive Web services strategy and will face compatibility issues with rival offerings, analysts said.

          Similar to Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Oracle's announcement of its Web services strategy, analysts said that Sun's efforts are a reaction to Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's .NET.

          Key to making Web services work is insuring that they are independent of operating systems and platforms. Microsoft in particular is shifting quickly in this direction. The company has a lot at stake with Web services, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston. "Microsoft has placed a heavier bet on this than anyone else," O'Kelly said. "Other vendors have put their weight behind it, but none as much as Microsoft."

          In contrast, Sun Labs has been working on Brazil for two years, making the Unix giant the last major vendor to publicize its Web services strategy. Microsoft and HP in Palo Alto, Calif., have been touting theirs for months, whereas Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM's Application Framework for e-business has been available for close to a year. Oracle announced its strategy near the end of last year.

          At least some of the vendors maintain that the industry has already begun building Web services. Oft-cited early examples of Web services include stock reports delivered to a cell phone or PDA.

          "There is already an architecture in place, and there is already a methodology," said Barry Goffe, Microsoft .NET product manager. "The things that come next are the products that support those."

          The products support the architecture and methodology using industry standards, including UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), WSDL (Web Services Description Language), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and XML.

          These de facto standards appear to have enough momentum, including backing from the Cambridge, Mass.-based World Wide Web Consortium standards body, that they are important for vendors to support.

          Launching Web services as an industry initiative, which depends on the standards, promises that so long as each vendor supports the necessary standards, all the Web services will interoperate with each other.

          But analysts are doubtful that such interoperability will occur right away, particularly since some of the vendors tend to try and shape industry standards to meet their own needs, which can fracture the standard itself, as is the case with XML.

          "It's unrealistic to expect that it will work seamlessly right off the bat. There is room for interpretation in the standards that will probably lead to glitches at the beginning," said Al Gillen, a research manager at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

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