Microsoft heralds Web services for devices

Microsoft Corp. is leading a group of vendors proposing a specification intended to extend Web services to devices.

An official at rival Sun Microsystems Inc., however, blasted Microsoft for what Sun believes is another attempt to foist a Web services standard on the rest of the industry.

Along with BEA Systems Inc., Canon Inc., and Intel Corp., Microsoft is proposing WS-Discovery, which purports to bring the benefits of Web services to devices by enabling discovery of services, such as a laptop finding a local printer. WS-Discovery, which is being unveiled at the Intel Developer Forum event in San Francisco, describes a way for devices to find and connect to Web services in a simple, lightweight way, according to Microsoft.

Publication of the specification is an effort to expand the existing Web services architecture to computing and peripheral devices not typically reachable through Web services, such as PDAs, computer peripherals, computing appliances, and consumer electronics.

"This technology really at its essence brings Web services to devices," said Steven VanRoekel, director of platform strategy at Microsoft. "It allows devices to really participate in the broad scenarios that are enabled through Web services by allowing devices to find and easily connect to Web services."

Through WS-Discovery, a device on the network sends out a multicast or broadcast message to find out what services are available, VanRoekel said. The technology can work in unison with UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), the Web services directory technology, in that WS-Discovery could be used by a UDDI server to advertise itself on a network, according to John Beatty, a senior principal technologist at BEA.

Microsoft plans to support WS-Discovery in its Windows operating system and in its development tools, although no timetable has been set, he said. Eventually, WS-Discovery will replace Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play technology for device connectivity to services.

WS-Discovery will be submitted for industry feedback and interoperability testing and then sent for consideration by an as-yet-unnamed industry standards organization, VanRoekel said.

But a Sun official said the proposal should have been developed within an industry standards group in the first place.

"To be honest, we haven't actually seen [the proposal] yet. If it had been developed in an open standards group we would have seen it," said Simon Phipps, Sun chief evangelist. WS-Discovery was "created as a secret and proprietary activity by a would-be monopolist," Phipps said.

"I can also say that the way it's being foisted on the industry is disgraceful," he said.

Sun cannot yet say if it would support WS-Discovery, Phipps said. But he argued that the open source JXTA technology that Sun is involved with addresses activities similar to WS-Discovery.

An analyst contrasted WS-Discovery with UDDI.

"Basically, specs like UDDI are good for when the various Web services participants are all connected to the network, but what do you do about mobile devices, phones, and even things like printers that will increasingly take advantage of Web services, but systems aren't aware of when the devices are available or not," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC.

"In this vein, Microsoft is introducing its WS-Discovery protocol that is focused on two key things: notifying systems through a multicast protocol when a device or service is available, and providing a location 'bootstrap' so that UDDI systems and event-driven systems can continue to locate and communicate with the device," Schmelzer said.

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