Sun Wastes Little Time Preparing WS-I "Wish List"

It's barely a week since Sun Microsystems was voted onto the board at WS-I, and already the company is mapping out their agenda for contributing to the web services group of more than 160+ vendors co-founded by Microsoft and IBM. Sun's WS-I delegate, Mark Hapner, a distinguished engineer, shared Sun's potentially controversial "To Do" list for changes in WS-I with IDN. See what you think.

Tags: WS-I, Standards, Hapner, Standards Groups, Web Services, Developers, Profile,

Sun Microsystems is wasting little time mapping out their agenda for contributing to the WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization), a multi-vendor web services group of more than 160+ vendors co-founded by Microsoft and IBM. Sun's long campaign for a seat on WS-I's board came to a successful close last week, as Mark Hapner, a Sun distinguished engineer and chief web services strategist for the company, was voted to a two-year term.

Following the vote, Hapner told IDN that he felt "WS-I had made a very good start," but added that Sun intended to use its new influence as a board member to push for a few issues. "Our job is to represent the Java and J2EE developer community, and that is what will do," Hapner said. Java vendors IBM, BEA, Borland and Rational are all members of WS-I.

While WS-I execs and publicly hoping that Sun's membership in the group's board will speed development of web services standards, it's equally possible that Sun could actually slow things down, depending how you look at it. IDN presents the Sun "To Do" list for WS-I, to let developers draw their own conclusions:

  • Closer Ties with Bona Fide Standards Group -- Hapner wants WS-I to improve the way the group interacts with formal standards bodies, notably the W3C and OASIS. He noted that only two pending web services standards (WS-Security and DIME) had been presented to a formal standards body, and claimed that proposals advocated by WS-I members (including the WS family of standards being proposed by IBM and Microsoft) should also be submitted to standards group.

    "WS-I should have more formal liaison with standards groups it's working with," Hapner said, "and it's going to be a little stymied if it needs to cover an area where there no standard yet." Hapner added that if WS-I would be more open to working with standards groups, it would help avoid some of the conflict now taking place in among web services standards, and would avoid potentially lengthy delays in implementing WS-I interoperability rules.

    WS-I spokesperson Rob Cheng said that WS-I's work is already very close to standards groups, noting the recent Basic Profile for SOAP and WSDL based on W3C work. "Our role is to ensure interoperability for developers after standards are set, not before," Cheng told IDN, "although many of the same faces that meet at WS-I are also on many standards committees. We all are on the same page here."

    However, at the same luncheon, Ed Julson, Sun's group marketing manager for Java and Web Services, seemed to fling down a gauntlet to many WS-I members: "Until MS and IBM have finished what they've started (WS-*) and donate those technologies (to an appropriate standards body), it's fine for Sun and others to invent another solution, and they will be overlapping." Julson added one other note on the topic: "There will be debate within the WS-I on what's a standard and what is not. WS-I hasn't gotten to the hard part yet."

    In just the last few weeks, Sun has proposed at least two proposed standards that aren't 100% in alignment with proposals for IBM, Microsoft, BEA, SAP and other WS-I members.

  • Stricter Guides for Cross-Platform Interoperability -- Hapner told IDN: "WS-I's approach to interoperability between platforms may need some extra work," and, as a result, he said he intends to push WS-I to make its conformance procedures more strict, and overall "improve the quality of platform conformance."

    Under the current WS-I approach, Hapner claimed, there are some "very simple ways" for developers to get caught in building non-conformant specs. "You think you've done something conformant, but there are windows of non-conformance opening up," he explained. An example, Hapner said, can be found in SOAP, where the specifications allow for several header options, including 1, 0, True and False. "Non-conformance can occur when your clients are using True and another False," he said.

    WS-I's Cheng noted that many Java/J2EE vendors, including BEA and IBM, have worked within WS-I to ensure Java compatibilities, and further noted that even the Java Community Process has decided to delay its final J2EE 1.4 specs to ensure that Java/J2EE vendors will be able to ship WS-I-compliant technologies.

  • Better Developer Outreach -- Hapner also told IDN that WS-I needs to better reach out to the developer. Hapner was especially concerned about interoperability between current J2EE users of JAX and next-generation web services.

    "WS-I could perform outreach to developers and help them use the tools. They haven't yet." An example here, Hapner said, is that it isn't clear that the current WS-I Basic Profile will accommodate developers using JAX-RPC. "Such apps are [currently] not in the profile," Hapner said. While he declined to say that he or Sun would specifically block the WS-I profile or ask for an enhancement, Hapner did say, "When you have an application specifically targeted for the [WS-I] profile, you'll see tools outside the profile that will fill in the holes in the profile."

    WS-I's Cheng said that WS-I's tools, templates and sample code for the recently approved Basic Profile 1.0 are on schedule, and that there will be an enhancement in version 1.1 to support attachments.

  • End User Representation -- Hapner also said WS-I needs to do more to extend membership to commercial companies and non-profile organizations that will be building web services. Cheng noted that WS-I is exploring ways to have such groups participate without requiring them to participate in every meeting.

  • Despite Sun's laundry list of targeted improvements, there remains hope it can all be worked out quickly -- without derailing any WS-I progress or momentum built thus far. In the wake of the vote, in fact, Hapner told CMP Media right after the vote: "I'm expecting things to go smoothly. I'm not looking for any controversy there at all. I think we just want to take up our role and be a productive member of the WS-I."

    But there are some signs that Sun may have a broader agenda to push WS-I to work more closely with bona fide standards groups, and to detail WS-I specs to flesh out more detailed Java support.

    In a statement, Hapner said, "Sun's election to the WS-I board demonstrates that there is broad industry alignment in the push to establish a set of converged and open standards for web services. We are pleased to have the endorsement of the vendor and user community, and are determined to make a valuable contribution to this important industry effort."