The 38th parallel

On the subject of the e-Framework for Education and Research, Andy Powell, in eFoundations, asks:

…does the e-Framework support the Web (again, read Web 2.0 if you like) mindset, does it fight against it, or is it neutral?

Although the e-Framework is careful to position itself as technology-neutral it is, nonetheless, somewhat associated with WS-* in some quarters. This may be partly because the e-Framework was born partly out of a perceived need for our communities to engage with SOA. The arguments between proponents of WS-* and REST respectively are, by now, well-rehearsed. I’ve been a little startled by the strong positions I’ve heard people take on this issue. There are use-cases for both, but the fact that the REST approach has gained a great deal more traction recently is interesting and shows a healthy interest in opening up ‘resources’ for simple web-based operations. In a post entitled REST vs. WS-*: War is Over (If You Want It), David Chappell asserts:

To anybody who’s paying attention and who’s not a hopeless partisan, the war between REST and WS-* is over. The war ended in a truce rather than crushing victory for one side–it’s Korea, not World War II. The now-obvious truth is that both technologies have value, and both will be used going forward.

David cites impending support for REST in Microsoft developer products and similar support in ‘official’ Java frameworks. He suggests that the argument was caused by the use of the phrase ‘web services’ to describe a set of standards, protocols and technologies which have only a passing connection with the Web and that, by contrast, REST is entirely rooted in the Web and its architecture. Interestingly, Elliotte Rusty Harold extends David’s ‘Korean War’ metaphor, to suggest that “WS-* is North Korea and REST is South Korea”. It therefore follows that:

WS-* fails because it believes massive central planning works better than the individual decisions of millions of web sites. It’s no coincidence that the WS-* community constantly churns out volume after volume of specification and one tool after another. […] By contrast you don’t see a lot of complicated REST frameworks or specifications. […] REST/HTTP sets up a simple economic system based on a few clear rules, and then pretty much gets out of the way to let people do their own thing. It doesn’t even get too upset when people break the rules[..] they will be dealt with by the RESTful market.

Of course Elliotte has changed the central message of David’s original piece - Elliotte believes that WS-* is, essentially, doomed. The important point for him is the superiority of the market-place versus the inadequacies of central control. So, back to the e-Framework, and Andy’s question. Well, the political answer might be to say that the e-Framework can’t afford to be seen to be fighting against the Web/Web 2.0. If the e-Framework confined itself to describing SOA within the education/research enterprise, then it might avoid the Web 2.0 market-place. But the e-Framework doesn’t want to be North Korea, it wants to be, if not global, then international at least. The pragmatic answer is, I suspect, that so long as we allow the e-Framework to be shaped by our communities, we will see the answer emerge. Over time, we’ll be able to re-ask Andy’s question as “do our communities support the Web mindset….?”, using the e-Framework as evidence. If, on the other hand, we do not allow the e-Framework to be shaped by the market-place of our communities, then it will matter less and less what it supports or fights against….

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