Web Services, that emerging set of specifications for the exchange of data over the Web, is supposedly designed to enable systems to exchange files with virtually any other system. So if that ideal is reached, what does that mean for operating system vendors like Microsoft?

Microsoft will continue to be a major force. But can the computer world use Web Services to achieve that Holy Grail in which a device's manufacturer does not matter because any user, anywhere, with any device will be able to communicate with all other users regardless of the application and operating system?

Maybe. A system close to this ideal already exists -- the public telephone system. It does not matter which vendor makes the phone. The user does not deal with a telephone operating system. Callers can connect with callers on other systems using other devices -- PDAs, faxes, any device capable of handling TCP/IP (the language of the Internet). The United States has already shown that it does not want one company owning the telephone system. So why should we want one company having the same dominance in computers? (That is a related, but separate topic.) There is a kicker to this in that there are telephone operating systems. Doug Burgum, who heads Microsoft Business Solutions, expects market penetration of phone OSs will increase over the next few years (probably Windows Mobile). And, OSs provide other features beyond sure data interchange, he points out. Still, the public telephone system shows the promise.

XML, the file format that is a close cousin to HTML, is the building block for this world. Strip away all the terms and acronyms and under Web Services, systems will communicate by exchanging HTML files. If this system comes together, it should not matter whether a computer uses the Windows, Unix, Linux, or Macintosh operating systems. That means the Microsoft cannot build its business around the promises that operating system dominance is key to its strategy.

Ideals are one thing. The real world is another. We've seen with Java that there are ways that Microsoft combats anything that challenges its hegemony. Friends who have heard this theory have every confidence that Microsoft will find some way to make Web Services proprietary.

And if Burgum is right, telephones will move away from open systems. But why can't we have a world with a more open computing platform and also use OS-based voice devices?

But, as John Lennon says, Imagine….


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