Software as a Service

If there's one buzzword we've all heard a million times this year, it's "Web Services." But as many times as I've heard that phrase, I've also heard the question, "What exactly is a Web Service?" So this month we decided to take a look at Linux, Open Source, and emerging standards and technologies and provide you with some answers.

If there’s one buzzword we’ve all heard a million times this year, it’s “Web Services.” But as many times as I’ve heard that phrase, I’ve also heard the question, “What exactly is a Web Service?” So this month we decided to take a look at Linux, Open Source, and emerging standards and technologies and provide you with some answers.

A couple of years ago, I remember hearing people talk about selling software as a “service”, rather than a “product”. I wasn’t really sure what that meant at the time (and I’m not sure if the people pitching it knew either), but I recall hearing a lot of ideas that made little sense: how people would “rent” access to Microsoft Word or Excel, rather than purchasing the applications outright; and that applications would be delivered to us through our browsers, of course, rather than living on our hard drives.

So, here I am thinking about it two years later, and I think software as a service has a lot less to do with “renting” applications through a browser, and a lot more to do with the way in which software will be used to provide services to both users and other computers.

If you think about it, we already use software that provides us with all kinds of services every day. When you use Amazon.com, or Travelocity, or the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, you are interacting with very powerful applications running on someone else’s server. Those applications merely serve as interfaces to the services or information you are buying or using. Beyond those high-profile sites, thousands of smaller businesses have developed Web sites in the past seven or eight years, many of which are simply conduits to the goods and services offered by a traditional “bricks and mortar” company.

“Web Services” are going to take all of this to the next level — allowing Websites to share services with each other, as well as offering them to human beings. That may sound like a simple idea, but enabling Web sites to interact and conduct transactions with each other requires a whole slew of infrastructure that’s only now maturing and being widely deployed. Check out our articles on pages and 22 and 30 to see what I’m talking about.

Linux, Apache, and the rest of the usual Open Source suspects (Perl, Python, PHP, etc.) are key to insuring that the standards around Web Services remain open. However, they’re certainly not going to be building this future on their own. No, pretty much every big software company wants to be in on the party, and each one is creating products that will enable customers to more easily build and deploy Web Services. Of course, Microsoft with their .NET effort, and Sun with their Java initiatives, represent the two major competing schools of thought and sources of tools.

Speaking of Java — we were incredibly fortunate this month to be able to talk to Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, and get his perspective on how Sun, Java, Linux, and Open Source might play together in this future world. I’d like to thank Scott for taking the time to do the interview.

And I’ll wrap up by asking a question: are you currently building any Web Services using Linux, Apache, and friends? Are you thinking about it? Linux Magazine would love to know more about your plans for this stuff, and as always, we’d love to have your comments and feedback. Please drop us a note at editors@linux-mag.com.

See you next month,

Adam M. Goodman

Adam Signature

.Editor & Publisher

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