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EU research driving the web services seismic shift

The growth of web services marks a seismic shift in computing. Web services, composed of a multitude of simple software applications, have the potential to crack the monolithic software application model and create a new online-services landscape, accessible to all. New research reveals that Europe is closely involved in setting the key standards for this development.

Web services provide a standard means of interlinking two or more discrete software applications, each of which could be hosted on quite different platforms and/or frameworks. Thanks to such interoperability, web services can be combined to carry out quite complex operations. Software programs offering simple services can interact with each other and in the process deliver sophisticated added-value services.

There are already some impressive examples of the value-added services made possible by linking separate software applications in this way. One example combines a mapping function with a classified advertising service to automatically provide geographic maps for home rental/purchasing applications. Another alerts booksellers of the lowest retail price being offered for specific books. Still others personalise advertising to suit a particular geographic location.

Europe leads in web-service adoption and deployment, but lags in the development of appropriate standards. To this end, the WS2 (Web Services and Semantics) project set out in July 2004 to promote European participation in standards development for such purposes. The project has already scored some remarkable successes at W3C, the standards body for the web.

"We evaluated the impact of the project by monitoring European participation in the various W3C working groups we support. We measured up to seventy percent European participation in these particular groups – North-American participants are usually the majority," says Carine Bournez, technical coordinator for the WS2 project.

For non-experts, standards are arguably the dullest topic imaginable, their individual significance lost in a forest of acronyms. But they are vitally important and their power is anything but dull. TCP/IP, which began as a modest protocol, is now the most important protocol governing the smooth functioning of the global internet. HTML gave rise to the ubiquity of the world wide web. Outside the computing arena, SMS on mobile phones changed how a generation socialised, and even gave rise to a new language, txt, where "see you later" became "cu L8r". Standards matter.

Thanks to the work of the project, Europe has now taken on a greater role in setting the standards for web services. WS2 has boosted European participation in the Web Services Choreography Description Language working group, which focuses on allowing individual services to work together over diverse networks. It has also boosted participation in the Semantic Web Services Interest Group, one of the most important talking shops for the whole process. And the project’s work has helped to create the Semantic Annotation for Web Services Description Language (SAWSDL), a key standard that will allow annotation of a service's function in machine-readable format.

The work of WS2 is largely responsible for the dramatic increase in European participation in all three groups. These results are impressive precisely because standards development is such an arduous and lengthy process. However WS2 has very effectively spurred communities and companies to action.

The project achieved these impressive results by organising conferences, hosting a seminar and demonstrating example applications. The project participants will continue to build on these results for the next six months.

"Input from European industry is very important at this point in time," says Bournez. "European industry is well positioned as an advanced user of the first layers of web service technologies, but has been less of a producer of these first bricks. Participation in the standardisation process for recent technologies is critical if we are to take the lead in the web services deployment area."

Jernett Karensen | alfa
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