October 8, 2004
@ 05:58 PM

In his post Debating WS-* Geoff Arnold writes

Tim Bray continues to discuss the relevance of the so-called WS-* stack: the collection of specifications related to XML-based web services. I'm not going to dive into the technology or business issues here; however Tim referred to a piece by Dare Obasanjo which argues that WS-* Specs are like JSRs. I tried to add a comment to this, but Dare's blog engine collapsed in a mess of XML, so I'll just post it here. Hopefully you'll be able to get back to read the original piece if you're interested. [Update: It looks as if my comment made it into Dare's blog after all.]

Just out of curiosity... if WS-* are like JSRs, what's the equivalent of the JCP? Where's the process documented, and what's the governance model? The statement "A JSR is basically a way for various Java vendors to standardize on a mechanism for solving a particular customer problem" ignores the fact that it's not just any old "way"; it's a particular "way" that has been publically codified, ratified by the community, and evolved to meet the needs of participants.

Microsoft isn't trying to compete with standards organizations. The JCP process falls out of the fact that Sun decided not to submit Java to a standards body but got pushback from customers and other Java vendors for something similar. So Sun manufactured an organization and process quite similar to a standards body with itself at the head. Microsoft isn't trying to get into this game.

The WS-* strategy that Microsoft is pursuing is informed from a lot of experience in the world of XML and standards. In the early days of XML, the approach to designing XML standards [especially at the W3C] was to throw together a bunch of preliminary ideas and competing draft specs without implementation experience then try to merge that into a coherent whole. This has been problematic as I wrote a few months ago

In recent times the way the W3C produces a spec is to either hold a workshop where different entities can submit proposals and then form a working group based on coming up with a unification of the various proposals or forming a working group to find come up with a unification of various W3C Notes  submitted by member companies. Either way the primary mechanism the W3C uses to produce technology specs is to take a bunch of contradictory and conflictiong proposals then have a bunch of career bureaucrats try to find some compromise that is a union of all the submitted specs. There are two things that fall out of this process. The first is that the process takes a long time, for example the XML Query workshop was in 1998 and six years later the XQuery spec is still a working draft. Also XInclude proposal was originally submitted to the W3C in 1999 but five years later it is just a candidate recommendation. Secondly, the specs that are produced tend to be too complex yet minimally functionaly since they compromise between too many wildly differing proposals. For example, W3C XML Schema was created by unifying the ideas behind DCD, DDML, SOX, and XDR. This has lead to a dysfunctional specification that is too complex for the simple scenarios and nigh impossible to use in defining complex XML vocabularies.

The WS-* process Microsoft has engaged the industry in aims at preventing this problems from crippling the world of XML Web Services as it has the XML world. Initial specs are written by the vendors planning who'll primarily be implementing the functionality then they are revised based on the results of various feedback and interoperability workshops. As a result of these workshops some specs are updated while others turn out to be infeasible and are deprecated. Some people such as Simon Fell, in his post WS-Gone, have complained that these leads to a situation where things are too much in flux but I think this is a lot better than publishing standards which turn out to contain features that are either infeasible to implement or are just plain wrong. Working in the world of XML technologies over the past three years I've seen both.

The intention is that eventually the specs that show that they are the fittest will end up in the standards process. This exactly what has happened with WS-Security (OASIS) and WS-Addressing (W3C). I expect more to follow in the future.