The take-up of web services is still being hampered by their complexity and the confusion arising from the proposed standards, according to participants at an SDForum interoperability event.

Speakers at Interoperability Forum - An Open Industry Dialog gave a poor progress report on the interoperability technology, citing issues ranging from competing standards to a lack of end-user participation in standards development.

"My personal observation, living in this world, [is that] it's still the early days of web services," said Andy Daecher, a partner in the technology integration services unit at Deloitte.

Displaying a list of about 15 Web services specifications currently vying to become standards, analyst Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at the Burton Group, referred to the confusing situation as "vertigo."

The list featured specifications such as WS-Federation and BPEL (Business process Execution Language).

"I understand what all this stuff is and it still makes my head spin," she said.

While the Web Services Interoperability Organization Basic Profile provides some understanding of how to use these specifications, there are unresolved issues, such as in using XML data mappings, Manes said.

Additionally, attachments pose problems with interoperability, she said. Java supports MIME (Multimedia Internet Mail Extensions) while .Net supports DIME (Direct Internet Message Encapsulation), said Manes. "You can't make them work together," she added.

Migrating from Web Services Framework (WSF) 1.0 to WSF 2.0 will be disruptive, Manes continued. Situations also have emerged with competing standards proposals, such as WS-ReliableMessaging and WS-Reliability, although WS-ReliableMessaging has won that battle, she said.

WS-Notification and WS-Eventing also are competing proposals, she noted. BPEL and WS-CDL (Choreography Description Language) present yet another competitive situation, Manes added.

Typically, vendors, not users, are pushing standards, said Manes. "The vendors are always pursuing their own agenda," and not necessarily customer requirements, Manes said.

While noting the plethora of standard proposals for users to follow, Manes did stress the importance of standards. "Just to conclude, interoperability is your goal. You need to get your systems to work together and standards [are] definitely the solution," she said. "Unfortunately, standardisation takes time."

Initiatives are under way to make it simpler to program with web services, said Edward Cobb, vice president of Architecture and Standards at BEA Systems. "That has been one of the major inhibitors," Cobb said. "You really do need to b a rocket scientist to use a lot of it."

An audience member concurred with Cobb's assessment and added that interoperability between Java and .Net "takes a substantial amount of work."

Cobb said there is a place for tools that make it easier to use web services. Efforts to this effect are under way at the Eclipse Foundation, he noted. But tooling alone will not suffice.

"The thing we have to be a little careful about is that we need abstractions that don't assume that you can cover up complexity with tooling," Cobb said.

Sun Microsystems's Nicholas Kassem, a technology director at the company, cautioned that there is no one single way to bootstrap web services that would be relevant to everybody. "There is no single magic bullet," he said.

Despite all the discouraging comments among panelists, Cobb stressed that Web services standards do work.

"The original question is, are the standards mature enough to work? The answer is [absolutely] yes," he said.

But more needs to be done to bring about wider use of web services, Cobb advised. The industry must enable the great majority of IT users to be able to use web services -- not just leading edge companies, consultants and some others, he said.