Monday, March 11, 2002

The Web Services Battle

Between the client/server model and a pure peer-to-peer architecture lies something called Web Services. This is where software giants and computer services companies are waging their next great battle. For a quick primer on Web services, pick up a copy of the new BusinessWeek or click here (subscription required). Following is the two paragraph gist from the BusinessWeek story:

It's the Web at your service. For consumers, this means handing off some of the pesky details of life to your computer. A Web site can keep your personal calendar and automatically arrange such things as doctors' appointments and meetings with the school guidance counselor. In early March, travel Web site (EXPE ) is launching electronic alerts that find you wherever you are via your computer, cell phone, or pager when your flight is delayed--and tip off your family or friends when your plane is about to land. Corporations are tapping Web services to do everything from getting internal computer systems to share information to tightening links with business partners.

People in the computer industry have been talking up this technology for more than two years, but now it is finally arriving. Tech kingpins including Microsoft (MSFT ), IBM (IBM ), and Net software specialist BEA Systems (BEAS ) are delivering products they expect to be the building blocks of Web services. To software makers, this looks like the most important thing to happen since the Web reared its head in 1994. One market alone--software that helps computer systems interoperate--is expected to amount to $15.1 billion worldwide next year, up from $9.3 billion last year, says market researcher Kinetic Information LLC. In anticipation of a bonanza, Microsoft Corp. is retooling its entire product line to foster Web services--what it calls its .Net strategy. "We are betting the company on Web services," vows Microsoft Chairman William H. Gates III.

So is Sun Microsytems. Which may well be the reason the company sued Microsoft last week, seeking treble damages on a $1 billion claim. There's an excellent capsule summary (subscription required) of the suit in today's Wall Street Journal, which is worth quoting at some length:

Sun Microsystems Inc. is once more entering the courtroom against Microsoft Corp., this time with a 71-page antitrust suit taking aim at some of the Microsoft products that are increasingly hurting Sun's core business and future growth plans.

It is Sun's second big suit against Microsoft and could become a multiyear headache for the Redmond, Wash., software company. Though Sun is making a series of new allegations that might not be easy to prove, some legal experts say the computer maker seems to be in a strong position to seek damages based on past Microsoft business practices that courts have already deemed illegal.

I'm not sure Sun is "in a strong position to seek damages," since it gives its Java programming code away (for free). If you give something away for free, how can you be economically harmed? But that's not the point of the suit. The point of the suit is to leverage Sun's legal advantage (Microsoft comes to court as a convicted monopolist) into some kind of settlement that enables Sun to better compete in the emerging web services marketplace.