Click here to close now.

SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Liz McMillan, AppDynamics Blog, David Sprott, tru welu, Blue Box Blog

Related Topics: @MicroservicesE Blog

@MicroservicesE Blog: Article

Is the "Web" in "Web Services" a Misnomer?

Understanding the Phenomenon Requires Looking Back, Forward, and Around

I know I shall be accused of being old-fashioned, but sometimes in order to understand the present, let alone the future, one of the very best starting-places is the past. Take for example the present surrounding Web services. The best clue to what is happening right now in the early 21st century comes from an English philosopher and political economist who lived and wrote in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill.

No new ideas can make their way in the world, wrote Mill, "until aptly selected words or phrases have, as it were, nailed them down and held them fast." And the (so far, very brief) history of Web services illustrates his point magnificently.

Credit for coining (or first using) the term belongs to Philip Greenspun, the now-retired computer scientist who was a pioneer in developing online communities. Three years ago I asked him whether he recognized the way it was being used, back then, and he didn't. "I might have coined the term but not with its current meaning," he wrote me. 

Greenspun continued: 

"What I meant by a 'Web service'  was what I might today call a 'Web appplication,' i.e. a Web site that does the job formerly done by a desktop app. The Microsoft .NET-style 'Web services' we just called 'Web-based distributed computing'."

In Greenspun's view, "Web services" as it was being used back then (in 2002) was a misnomer.

"I personally think something incorporating the standard 1960s and 1970s term 'distributed computing' is the right one. 'Web services' doesn't fit because most/much of this stuff will eventually be happening on the Internet but without what most people think of as the Web (i.e., users will not be viewing in HTML though probably HTTP will be used so technically it could be called 'Web')."

The characteristic insight and prescience of Greenspun's analysis here was demonstated this week from two diametrically opposed camps.

In San Jose, Sun's president and COO, Jonathan Schwartz, made a speech in which he asserted that the PC is "so yesterday" because the desktop is no longer what matters. What has become important, Schwartz said, are "Web services on the Internet and the mobile phones most will use to access them":

"The majority of the applications that will drive the next wave of innovation will be services, not applications that run on the desktop. The real innovation is occurring in the network and the network services."
Meantime, far to the north of San Jose in Safeco Field in Seattle, WA, where Microsoft was staging its 30th-birthday annual meeting, Bill Gates was reviewing his company's first three decades and chose, out of all the myriad trends and phenomena - guess what - "Web services" as one of the two most central focuses in Microsoft's history:
"As I think about the last 30 years," Gates said, "I’m most proud of our making 'big bets' on technologies like the graphical user interface or Web services and watching them grow into something people rely on every day."

So there we have it. Microsoft wants to chain "Web services" to the realm of the desktop where commercial domination is still possible, while Sun wants to liberate the term to the superset, to the Network itself, a technical meritocracy where no such domination is possible but where the overall global market is so vast that any company with even a single percentage point of it can maintain and nurture a vibrant multibillion dollar business.

Above all, it is precisely the elastic quality of a term like "Web services" that will guarantee its secure place in the i-Technology lexicon for decades to come. It's all a little like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

Comments (2)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Latest Stories
You use an agile process; your goal is to make your organization more agile. But what about your data infrastructure? The truth is, today's databases are anything but agile - they are effectively static repositories that are cumbersome to work with, difficult to change, and cannot keep pace with application demands. Performance suffers as a result, and it takes far longer than it should to deliver new features and capabilities needed to make your organization competitive. As your application an...
Want to enable self-service provisioning of application environments in minutes that mirror production? Can you automatically provide rich data with code-level detail back to the developers when issues occur in production? In his session at DevOps Summit, David Tesar, Microsoft Technical Evangelist on Microsoft Azure and DevOps, will discuss how to accomplish this and more utilizing technologies such as Microsoft Azure, Visual Studio online, and Application Insights in this demo-heavy session.
As cloud gives an opportunity to businesses to buy services externally – how is cloud impacting your customers? In his General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Fabio Gori, Director of Worldwide Cloud Marketing at Cisco, provided answers to big questions: Do you see hybrid cloud as where the world is going? What benefits does it bring? And how does Cisco connect all of these clouds? He also discussed Intercloud and Cisco’s investment on it.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover ...
Health care systems across the globe are under enormous strain, as facilities reach capacity and costs continue to rise. M2M and the Internet of Things have the potential to transform the industry through connected health solutions that can make care more efficient while reducing costs. In fact, Vodafone's annual M2M Barometer Report forecasts M2M applications rising to 57 percent in health care and life sciences by 2016. Lively is one of Vodafone's health care partners, whose solutions enable o...
In her General Session at 15th Cloud Expo, Anne Plese, Senior Consultant, Cloud Product Marketing, at Verizon Enterprise, focused on finding the right mix of renting vs. buying Oracle capacity to scale to meet business demands, and offer validated Oracle database TCO models for Oracle development and testing environments. Anne Plese is a marketing and technology enthusiast/realist with over 19+ years in high tech. At Verizon Enterprise, she focuses on driving growth for the Verizon Cloud platfo...
Andi Mann has been serving as Conference Chair of the DevOps Summit since its inception. He is one of the world's recognized leaders in DevOps, and continues to be one of its most articulate advocates. Here are some recent thoughts of his in an interview we conducted in the run-up to the DevOps Summit to be held June 9-11 at the Javits Center in New York City. When did you first start thinking about DevOps and its potential impact on enterprise IT? Andi: I first started thinking about DevOps b...
The most often asked question post-DevOps introduction is: “How do I get started?” There’s plenty of information on why DevOps is valid and important, but many managers still struggle with simple basics for how to initiate a DevOps program in their business. They struggle with issues related to current organizational inertia, the lack of experience on Continuous Integration/Delivery, understanding where DevOps will affect revenue and budget, etc. In their session at DevOps Summit, JP Morgentha...
In a recent research, analyst firm IDC found that the average cost of a critical application failure is $500,000 to $1 million per hour and the average total cost of unplanned application downtime is $1.25 billion to $2.5 billion per year for Fortune 1000 companies. In addition to the findings on the cost of the downtime, the research also highlighted best practices for development, testing, application support, infrastructure, and operations teams.
The OpenStack cloud operating system includes Trove, a database abstraction layer. Rather than applications connecting directly to a specific type of database, they connect to Trove, which in turn connects to one or more specific databases. One target database is Postgres Plus Cloud Database, which includes its own RESTful API. Trove was originally developed around MySQL, whose interfaces are significantly less complicated than those of the Postgres cloud database. In his session at 16th Cloud...
How does one bridge the gap between traditional enterprise storage infrastructures and the private, hybrid, and public cloud? In his session at 15th Cloud Expo, Dan Pollack, Chief Architect of Storage Operations at AOL Inc., examed the workload differences and required changes to reuse existing knowledge and components when building and using a cloud infrastructure. He also looked into the operational considerations, tool requirements, and behavioral changes required for private cloud storage s...
Software is eating the world. Companies that were not previously in the technology space now find themselves competing with Google and Amazon on speed of innovation. As the innovation cycle accelerates, companies must embrace rapid and constant change to both applications and their infrastructure, and find a way to deliver speed and agility of development without sacrificing reliability or efficiency of operations. In her Day 2 Keynote DevOps Summit, Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell, discussed...
The speed of product development has increased massively in the past 10 years. At the same time our formal secure development and SDL methodologies have fallen behind. This forces product developers to choose between rapid release times and security. In his session at DevOps Summit, Michael Murray, Director of Cyber Security Consulting and Assessment at GE Healthcare, examined the problems and presented some solutions for moving security into the DevOps lifecycle to ensure that we get fast AND ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that MetraTech, now part of Ericsson, has been named “Silver Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9–11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY. Ericsson is the driving force behind the Networked Society- a world leader in communications infrastructure, software and services. Some 40% of the world’s mobile traffic runs through networks Ericsson has supplied, serving more than 2.5 billion subscribers.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In this session, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the ...