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Vive La Difference

When I was interviewing the Microsoft CEO for Europe, Jean Philippe Courtois, last week, we touched briefly on Web Services and those areas where he felt that Europe was leading the rest of the world.

The arrival of the Internet made the world a much easier place to develop workable ‘Open’ standards and standards can be good for business, as they can deny a single company the opportunity of controlling an important technology. You may have read that Microsoft has finally been ‘persuaded’ to reveal its source code to Governments and has been active in working with the industry to develop and support the next generation of open standards and technical rules, with acronyms like SOAP, XML, UDDI, WSDL and others.

John Gotze reminds me that: "The definition of a Web service is a software system identified by a URI, whose public interfaces and bindings are defined and described using XML. Its definition can be discovered by other software systems. These systems may then interact with the Web service in a manner prescribed by its definition, using XML based messages conveyed by internet protocols".

Of course, Microsoft’s view of the future doesn’t always coincide with everyone else’s, particularly if you happen to be Sun Microsystems or IBM but Courtois comments: “Our XML based interoperable world where data can be shared as easily as text and pictures, is an example of how we are enhancing technologies and connecting all systems, not just Microsoft's. This is a credible, open and innovative approach which even our sceptics would agree is a real commitment”.

Where XML is involved at least, there is a consensus or as close to one as you’re ever likely to find in this industry, which has XML acting rather like the fax machine of the 21st century.

What do I mean by this? Fax machines we take for granted these days, because the technology ‘negotiates’ which standard they use to communicate with each other, in this case the transmission speed. XML, the foundation on which Web Services are being built, does much the same thing but in terms of a common understanding of what a piece of information, such as ‘Customer’ or ‘Date’ actually means in a document being passed between different systems. For XML to work, everyone has to work together, friend and foe alike, with no room for any one company to stay outside what is effectively the equivalent of the Euro currency for Web Services. Courtois, from his Microsoft perspective in Paris, points out that because of the demand for legislative 'harmonisation' between member states, “The EU is leading in developing many standards of the new interoperable and secure computing environment; this again offers opportunities for us to both learn and contribute”.

Asked if there are fundamental differences in challenges facing the company in Europe, Courtois identifies three areas as uniquely European.

“There are some exceptional technology opportunities in Europe. Smart phone technology is one good example,” says Courtois.

"Tablet PCs can also leverage wireless advances in Europe, faster than in other markets. E-government is advancing quickly across Europe and European information workers are the prime beneficiaries of many of the technology advances that we are seeing."

So, it’s good news for Europe, with Courtois estimating that 1.5 million IT jobs have been created in the EU through the collision of the internet and the personal computer and its good news for Microsoft that more than one million people are engaged in reselling Microsoft technology in western Europe.

In contrast with the UK, there is so much good news in Europe that I am seriously thinking of joining the long list of asylum-claiming columnists on the other side of the channel where lunch takes two hours and where the trains run on time. Ironically, I don’t know anyone in IT who wouldn’t do the same if the opportunity arose. Would you?


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