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Moving Beyond SOA to the Web
FTP President Jim Fawcette discusses the increasing importance of Web design in the world of software architecture.
by James E. Fawcette

February 27, 2006

Seven years ago, this publishing company acquired a series of Web conferences. Our thinking was that Web design couldn't remain a totally separate discipline from software architecture. We thought the Web would become a development platform and we'd leverage our strengths in IT-oriented publishing to span both disciplines.

Well, it took a lot longer to materialize than we thought, but suddenly 2006 is becoming the year that the IT community decides it must do more than focus solely on the server and must stop treating user interaction with Web-based applications as merely a design issue of colors and interface elements.

Part of this is driven by competitive positioning. The community of everyone-but-Microsoft originally pushed browsers delivering simple HTML as adequate for every use. In true "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail" fashion, IT vendors that failed to compete with Microsoft in selling PC software declared that the PC was dead, that all you need is a browser. And for a while, that movement had tremendous momentum.

But after a rapid rush to the browser, the user community recoiled, asking for all the UI elements it had gotten used to on the PC—whether you derisively call them "fat clients," or in Microsoft-speak praise them as "smart clients." I remember one consultant quoting an IT client, "We paid $10 million for this application and I have to tell people, 'Be careful not to hit the Back button or hit Refresh.'"

In late 2004 to early 2005, some in the Microsoft ecosystem (although not Microsoft itself) went as far as proclaiming that "HTML is dead," because browser development had basically stopped.

Adam Bosworth, now at Google but formerly of BEA, Crossgain, and Microsoft, was one of the early visionaries to discuss how a rich user experience could be delivered through the browser, and extensive efforts at www.eclipse.org were put behind tools that downloaded and ran in the browser.

The materialization of Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), RSS, Ruby on Rails, Wikis, instant messaging, and bots is making the Web emerge as a development platform. Even if, like me, you have to hold your nose at the hype of Web 2.0, the moniker is valuable in that it offers a single term to encompass all these technologies.

The next step is to bridge the rich Web with SOA, to deliver applications that are robust and scalable but also usable.

In his opening keynote for our Software Architecture Summit, John deVadoss, director of architecture strategy at Microsoft, said that "there is something fundamentally happening… and if Web 2.0 is one end, then SOA [service-oriented architecture] is the other."

As deVadoss described in an eWeek article by Darryl K. Taft, "The consumer edge is the peer-to-peer, Web 2.0 world and the enterprise edge is the SOA, ESB (enterprise service bus) model. In addition, the consumer edge is an asynchronous communications model based on the REST (Representational State Transfer) scheme, and the enterprise edge is based on the Simple Object Access Protocol scheme.

"'REST is a dominant model on the consumer side, and SOAP is the model on the enterprise side,' deVadoss said.

"'As architects we have to think very hard about what's happening on the consumer edge, this Web 2.0 edge… We could wait, but I believe this is the cusp,' deVadoss said.

"'These edges are bridging. It's time we put the user back into SOA.'"