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[DotGNU]Dan Gillmor: Robert Mikula is the Valenti of Web Services
[DotGNU]Dan Gillmor: Robert Mikula is the Valenti of Web Services
Sun, 07 Jul 2002 15:55:47 -0400
(Forwarded from Friends of Rohit Khare list, address@hidden)
-------- Original Message --------
Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2002 14:57:46 -0700 (PDT)
From: address@hidden (Adam Rifkin)
Remember when DataChannel mattered? As if Redmond++ has
room for more than one tech opinion... :)
Web-standards-by-brute-force indeed; if the world doesn't
stand up for Web Services independently of IBM and
Microsoft, it deserves what it gets.
Ahead of the Curve
THE WEB SERVICES Interoperability Organization (WS-I) is out
of order. The technical term is broke, busted, clueless --
and now, term-limited. And Norbert Mikula is the Jack
Valenti of the Web Services community. What am I saying -- a
stooge of the entrenched monopolists? As the world's
foremost authority, comedian Professor Irwin Corey says,
"No, no, I really mean that."
Jack Valenti is the head of the Motion Picture Association
and a former aide to President Lyndon Johnson. Norbert
Mikula is director of technology at Intel's research lab and
vice chairman of WS-I. As the former CTO of DataChannel and
the Organization for the Advancement of Structured
Information Standards (OASIS), Mikula was a credible
advocate for XML standards. As a principal of WS-I, he has
devolved into the mouthpiece for the RIAA (Recording
Industry Association of America) of the computer industry.
Why am I being so harsh? It's simple: The Web services stack
continues to be under attack from an organization led by
IBM, Microsoft, and a cynical group of executives who
apparently think they can attain Web standards by brute
You may recall IBM Standards Chief Bob Sutor's tap dance
about Sun joining WS-I (see "No reply ... needed,"). He was
willing to say anything but yes to Sun joining the group as
a founding member, shifting the blame from Sun's SOAP
(Simple Object Access Protocol) recalcitrance to the
mechanics of WS-I's bylaws. Finally, Sutor announced IBM's
support for adding two seats to the founding board -- and we
Strangely, Sun grew quiet as well. After a panel on Web
services I moderated at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology
conference in May, I asked Sun executive Bill Smith about
the status of the Sun seat on the board. Smith repeated the
hope that Sun would be invited, but indicated he had been
asked to keep a low profile. The ball was in IBM's court and
on its way to WS-I approval.
Imagine my surprise more than a month later when Mikula told
IDG News Service's Matt Berger what all the quiet was about.
Yes, the nine-member board unanimously approved a working
group to propose a method to appoint two new "founding"
members. But Mikula said the new members would join for a
two-year term and be forced to run for re-election.
Wait, here comes the punch line: Mikula added that the
current board members, including founding fathers IBM and
Microsoft, are not subject to term limits, and won't be in
the future. And Sun would have to join the organization as a
member in order to be considered for a board seat. "What
we're being offered is the opportunity to join a lottery --
to join a beauty parade for a temporary place on a
second-tier position on the board," says Simon Phipps, Sun's
chief technology evangelist. "We're not interested. We want
to be a founding member so that we can fix the bug in WS-I,
which has been built in by its founders about preserving the
royalty control of future standards on the Internet."
Sun's position, Phipps says, is that the infrastructure of
the Internet should be royalty free. "There's been a market
that has been successfully manipulated by two monopolists,"
Phipps challenges, and "new infrastructure is being proposed
which is under threat through control of patents."
But what about Sun's reluctant but now full-fledged support
of SOAP, which itself has intellectual property claims from
both IBM and Microsoft? "Players in the industry are being
forced to do things which in any other circumstances they
would consider to be unwise," Phipps says. He views WS-I as
an organization designed to marginalize Sun.
Then why join the party at all? Isn't it like the old
Groucho Marx line about not wanting to join any club that
would have him as a member? "We'd be thrilled to be part of
a group that would have us, but they won't have us. What
they instead are insisting is that we bow before the great
god of the IBM and Microsoft duopoly."
As for term limits, Phipps is not surprised at the tactic.
"It doesn't matter what Rube Goldberg mechanisms they come
up with to make it look as if they're inviting us while
still actively rejecting us." Phipps also rejects the time
frame: "It could take us longer than two years to sort out
the royalty-payable approach that WS-I is taking."
Mikula sees term limits as a good way to keep things
responsive to the market. "The two-year term is a good
practice," he told Matt Berger, "in a sense that membership
needs to be continuously polled about who is on the board."
OK, Norbert, then what's good for the goose is good for the
gander. Why not term-limit everybody then? Let's see how
long Microsoft survives a poll by 100 voting members.
Microsoft remains quiet in the background, content to let
IBM and its proxies wage war out front. WS-I continues to
announce new members, but old-timers see familiar signs of a
potential balkanization of the Web services stack. It's hard
to get this sentiment on the record, but sometimes you can
read between the lines.
Take John Landry, former vice president of technology
strategy at IBM and chairman of the thinkingBytes Web
services startup, for instance. "Customers should be
demanding that these guys get this straight, because this is
finally the promised land on interoperability between
systems," he says. "Anybody who breaks that mold should be
banned from being in the business."
Phipps is still guardedly hopeful about WS-I, even as he
calls it an unvarnished attempt at market manipulation. "It
would be a shame to see such a big initiative wasted because
of the petty politics of the monopolists that founded it,"
he says. Phipps fondly remembers the Norbert Mikula of old.
"He's got a new organ grinder now," he sighs.
As one standards insider put it, it may be Norbert Mikula's
lips moving but it's Bob Sutor speaking.
Steve Gillmor is director of InfoWorld's Test Center. You
can reach him at address@hidden
Doesn't really matter, nothing else matters.
-- Trik Turner, "Friends and Family"
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