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It's That Time Again

It's That Time Again

Every five years or so a technology emerges that makes us reevaluate the way we write business applications. Guess what? It's that time again - time for our skillsets to be updated. Five years ago, the big wave was distributed programming. The current big wave, really an offshoot of distributed programming, is Web services.

If you don't know about Web services, you will very soon. The Web services label is incredibly generic; like any promising and loosely defined technology trend, the concepts it describes will be subject to a great deal of speculation, bandwagoneering, and incredible marketing hype in the months to come.

Web services is a group of closely related, emerging technologies describing a service-oriented, component-based application architecture that's based on an open, Internet-centric infrastructure. Web services represent a model in which discrete tasks within e-business processes are distributed widely throughout a value net. Companies that must meet the needs of their own software applications or business processes can recombine Web services components.

One simple example of a Web service may be an auction engine like eBay's. The eBay Web site offers a highly successful auction service. Currently, however, if Widgets-R-Us, a business that sells surplus widgets, wants to add auction functionality to their business model, they need to develop auction software from scratch or redirect customers to a site like eBay. With Web services, eBay could syndicate their auction functionality and make it available to other Web sites or applications (presumably for a fee). Companies like Widgets-R-Us would simply subscribe to eBay's Web service, add a few lines of code to their own applications to incorporate it, and they instantly have private-labeled auction functionality available on their sites. Other customer-facing examples include stock quotes, content syndication, and mapping services. Some enterprise-centric services may include payroll management, shipping and logistics, business intelligence, and credit scoring. Time to get busy. Get the books out, take a class, or join a users group. Once you learn more about Web services, you'll see why it's such a big deal.

Where does PowerBuilder fit in? In theory, the process of deploying code that can read and write XML, perform some kind of processing, and connect to other Web services is really language-agnostic. Even though the most vocal player so far is Microsoft (surprise!), other vendors are currently making fast changes in order to evolve older languages and platforms.

Web services is not language-specific and not based on a specific technology, but rather a group of established and emerging communication protocols that include HTTP, XML, Simple Object Application Protocol (SOAP), Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI), and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). A Web service can be developed on any computer platform and in any development environment, as long as it can communicate with other Web services using these common protocols. There's little reason PowerBuilder can't fit into this model.

Over the past few years, Sybase has put a substantial amount of work into EAS and marketing PowerBuilder as an Internet development tool. For all the great things that can be done with EAS, there's an underlying feeling that Sybase put in its two cents "too little, too late" to be a major player in building Internet applications.

Very infrequently in life do we get a second chance. Although not totally on the sidelines, PowerBuilder has not exactly been in the Internet starting lineup. However, it has survived. Since the industry is in the infant stages of a service-based architecture, Sybase should thank their lucky stars that they have yet another chance to reelevate PowerBuilder to its rightful position in the industry. As it's early in the game, there's no reason PowerBuilder can't be a contender or even dominate this arena. Ever since Sybase bought PowerBuilder, many people in the community have criticized the way they have marketed it - including myself. Sybase should keep their eyes open. In front of them lies a golden opportunity, so they shouldn't worry about past criticism. If they're able to launch PowerBuilder as a permanent dominant player for Internet development, thus inventing a new and promising future, we will forgive them.

More Stories By Bob Hendry

Bob Hendry is a PowerBuilder instructor for Envision Software Systems and a frequent speaker at national and international PowerBuilder conferences. He specializes in PFC development and has written two books on the subject, including Programming with the PFC 6.0.

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