Web services are going to be the next big thing!! Just like push technology.... Hah. Just kidding.
Seriously though, I think that web services are and will be remarkably helpful. I can speak from experience that they certainly make our jobs easier. I work for an energy industry software provider where we write software that's used by utilities for customer management. Things like online bill viewing, bill analysis, things of that nature. Our applications are web based and run on our web farm so we need to be able to get the bill data onto our systems. Think about that for a minute. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of utilities around the US. They all use different technologies (often very old) for their information collection and management. Oracle/DBase/DB2 databases, maybe IBM AS400 vintage stuff, various platforms, the possibilities are endless. Imagine how difficult it would be if we had to deal with calling all these different database systems from our applications (all running IIS and MS-SQL). Instead, we help the clients configure a web service to provide us with bill data. The advantages are numerous:
- The back end systems are irrelevant and invisible because they are "proxied" by a web server interface (the web server platform also is irrelevant)
- They only provide us with the information we need (imagine the security nightmare of having to expose your internal databases with sensitive information for external access!)
- It's all transferred over common protocols (HTTP)
- It's in real time (versus an alternative like FTP)
- I could go on...
Besides the "cool factor" of web services, they have a very serious and useful place with companies such as mine who need to bridge technology gaps and deal with physical separation of data and systems. We even have some web services that allow our own applications to share their data. Once case is an older ASP application which interacts with a new ASP.Net application thru an ASP.Net Webservice.
I don't want to doom web services by calling them "the next big thing", so I'll say that they are a very important addition/extension to the existing web technologies and will play an increasingly important role in furthering interoperability of web and client based applications. It has been interesting to see the evolution of software and computer usage from "thin-terminals" to beefier hardware running fully stand-alone applications then back to a modern reincarnation of "thin-terminals" in the form of thin-client applications (including thin-client desktop apps and web applications) that use web services and the like.