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The End User

The final irony of standardization is that the ultimate beneficiary is meant to be the end user or customer, not the vendor or implementer. So what we have in the industry today is a kind of ongoing drama played out by vendors that fiercely compete against one another on behalf of the consumer—or at least (indirectly) in the name of the consumer. Certainly, all this talk about standardization, and all this jockeying for position for control of specifications and for turning over specifications to independent organizations is not for the benefit of the vendors, is it?

Users and customers are active in W3C, UDDI.org, and in WS-I. But they do not control these organizations, and their level of influence tends to be less than the vendors' influence.

In the initial adoption phase of Web services standards, not much was at stake commercially. Agreeing on SOAP and WSDL is a bit like agreeing on TCP/IP or another low-level enabling standard such as Ethernet, PCI, or USB. People don't pay to be connected (or at least they don't pay much); they pay for what they can do with the connection. Hence, the battle over the future direction for Web services technologies is entering its new and difficult stage.

Web services are a fundamentally disruptive technology that has the potential to make obsolete lots of established, profitable product lines—such as application servers and message-oriented middleware systems. Imagine paying for application servers or other middleware systems what you'd pay for basic Web infrastructure. And imagine hiring people with the same level of skills as the people who develop and maintain your Web site to develop your new applications and integration flows.

Established software vendors may not want things to change. They have a vested interest in maintaining the sales of their existing products, which took millions of dollars to develop. The first commercially available television set was produced in 1928, but it wasn't until after World War II that the commercial potential of the medium began to be realized. There are many accounts of radio manufacturers concerned about their market being made obsolete.

Thus, you may often hear statements such as "Web services aren't ready" and won't be ready for several years.

The truth is that Web services are usable today for many applications, just as the initial Web was. It's also true that no one really knows which direction Web services will evolve. It would be better for everyone if the user or consumer of Web services software became the force behind their evolution, rather than leaving it up to the vendors—who can't agree, anyway.

What a great day it will be when the users and customers finally stand up and speak for themselves, and start telling the vendors what they want and need—and what to do about standardization. Only users and customers can really judge the benefits, after all, and only they can truly force widespread adoption. Competing vendors by definition will find a way to disagree, and try to gain advantage over each other.

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