Saturday, May 21, 2005

RSS and Web Services: Keep It Simple, Steve.

Amit Malhotra's May 19, 2005 post on therssweblog includes a transcript of his unscheduled Q&A session with Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at the TiEcon 2005 conference in Santa Clara:

Q1. How important is RSS? A fad, important, huge or will [it] replace the Web/HTML dominance of the internet? A1. We believe RSS is important and will be around for a while, but it is not going to change the world. It is a little too simple; that is also the reason everyone’s using it. We are working on more existing powerful stuff around XML Web services ... that will address many issues beyond RSS. RSS will be around, but whatever we are working next will be cooler and more prevelant. [Emphasis added] Having said that, there are groups in MS that believe RSS has the potential to change everything and many future technolog[ies] will be built around RSS, the internal debate goes on.

Q2. How do you, or do you, see Google/Blogger and similar tools being a threat to MS Office dominance? A2. Not at all, people will always need Office for the complexity of tasks they perform and, as such, Google’s offerings in the strain of Gmail/Blogger will not replace it. We think it will be part of what we offer in future versions of Office. Besides the next release of MS Office will have the tools to publish blogs as part of its collaborative tools; watch for them.

Amit's preceding transcript, to which I've made minor edits and emphasized text, generated a brief flurry of reaction by other well-known bloggers, including Microsoft's Robert Scoble, who left a comment to a related posting on Steve Rubel's Micropersuasion PR blog. A reader named Bud left the following comment that's a propos my preceding post on the issue of overcomplicating Web services and SOA:

When I talk to people who are doing web services and show them RSS, they say something like, "Hey, we could achieve a heck of a lot with just that. We should just implement it. Web services is so complicated and requires so much effort just to work." And, these are fairly sophisticated developers and architects. Simple, easy to implement technologies where developers can quickly do it and people can immediately see the value are going to win the day. That's things like AJAX as well as RSS.

Steve Ballmer's first answer indicates that Microsoft has a Web service-based replacement in mind for RSS that has a higher "coolness quotient," but I question whether any Web service API or toolkit can come close to competing with RSS's current prevelence in Web developer mindshare. [The assumption is that preceding references to RSS also encompass ATOM.] My bookshelf (as well as Don Box's) has a copy of the .NET My Services Specification (517 pp.) from the 2001 Microsoft Professional Developer Conference (PDC). .NET My Services, better known by its "HailStorm" codename, was intended to evelope XML-based identity, address-book, Web site favorites, calendar, travel and much other personal data with a digital wallet in a Web services wrapper. The essence of HailStorm, in the words of Mark Lucovsky, then Microsoft's Distinguished Engineer and Chief Software Architect of .NET My Services, was:
HailStorm embraced the idea of decoupling the data from the application. The idea was to allow a variety of applications to process and manipulate your calendar data, your address book, your email, your favorite web sites, your travel preferences and itineraries, etc. This is not a new, novel idea, but was certainly something that was important and core to the system. Simple applications that we were trying to enable included the ability to overlay your personal calendar with the calendar of your favorite band, or your favorite sports team, or your spouse, etc. We wanted to enable a unified "address book" where your contacts could be used across applications written by any vendor.
The HailStorm announcement aroused a call-to-arms among Microsoft's competitors to prevent Passport from becoming the world's default identity management and authentication protocol. The Liberty Alliance, championed by Sun Microsystems, proposed a "federated identity management system" and successfully thwarted serious consideration of Passport and HailStorm technology by IT management. Another issue with HailStorm was that client applications weren't really "simple." For example, the introductory chapter for the .NET Calendar service specificaton was 68 pages long. Lucovsky subsequently moved on to Google and recently posted a comparison of the core HailStorm concepts with those of RSS 2.0 and Atom. Mark cites the common core concepts as:
  • Network Centric, Extensible Data Model, for Everyday Data
  • Data Decoupled from Applications
  • Anytime, Anyplace, and from Any Device Access
  • Identity Centric Data Access

A major difference I see is that HailStorm proposed to standardize a wide range of data structures and methods for reading and updating personal information. HailStorm relied on the proprietary .NET Passport service (now "Passport Network") for authentication, which Microsoft's Kim Cameron now admits is out of context for authentication by non-Microsoft sites. As one commentor observed, HailStorm proposed to do "everything at once." RSS 2.0 and ATOM concentrate on public content sydication and have proven very successful at their assigned tasks, while only the successor of .NET My Alerts—SQL Server Notification Services—has achieved any semblance of industry adoption.