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The development of distributed systems poses different issues that developers must carefully take into consideration. Web services and (mobile) agents are two promising paradigms that are increasingly exploited in distributed systems design: they both try, albeit with very different conceptual abstractions, to govern unpredictability and complexity in wide-open distributed scenarios. In this paper, we compare the two approaches with regard to different aspects. Our aim is to provide developers with critical knowledge about the advantages of the two paradigms, stressing also the need for an intelligent integration of the two approaches.