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High-tech heavyweights form new e-business consortium

IBM, Intel, Microsoft, SAP and more than 20 other leading technology companies are forming a nonprofit think tank to work out ways for rival e-business software to communicate.

IBM, Intel, Microsoft, SAP and more than 20 other leading technology companies are forming a nonprofit think tank to work out ways for rival e-business software to communicate.


Gartner analyst Whit Andrews says the Business Internet Consortium faces potentially lethal challenges at a time when e-business standards consortia are aplenty.

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The Business Internet Consortium, whose Web site will debut Wednesday, will work with companies such as Capital One and ImageX.com to ensure that their back-end software works with those of the companies' vendors and their customers. The consortium already has a steering committee and will form working groups next month to address specific issues.

In the next five to 10 years, some 20 percent to 30 percent of the gross national product of the United States could be affected by business-to-business e-commerce, consortium organizers say. But if the various versions of e-business software don't work together, the growth of e-business will slow considerably, they add.

"Our customers have technology from all of the different vendors that are participating" in the consortium, said Marie Wieck, vice president of software strategy at IBM. "To fulfill their promise, all (the software) needs to work well together."

Most software developers have settled on two competing programming models to write their business software: Microsoft supports a model that steers businesses to use its dominant Windows operating system, while Sun Microsystems, Oracle and others support their own model based on the Java programming language.

The tech industry has rallied around XML (Extensible Markup Language) as a common language that would help link various programming models together, allowing businesses with different computing systems to connect and conduct trades online, regardless of the model they used. XML is a Web standard that allows businesses to exchange data.

Several standards efforts, however, are underway to create the blueprint for companies to use XML for e-business. Oasis, a United Nations-backed consortium of technology companies, is working on a set of standards, while Microsoft has thus far backed its own BizTalk standards.

But organizers of the Business Internet Consortium say that the new group will go beyond the standards bodies, because it will involve and address the needs of customers who use the technology. Instead of proposing standards that may compete with those of other groups, the new consortium will offer and publish solutions to common problems and encourage competing companies to work together, organizers say.

"The key participants will also be the key users will also be the key technology direction providers," said Will Swope, vice president of the solutions enabling group at Intel.

But despite the promise of the consortium and the high-profile participants, the consortium is just as notable for the companies that are sitting on the sidelines. Despite being invited to participate, Java supporters Sun Microsystems and Oracle, among others, have not yet joined.

Their absence from the consortium is not a problem, organizers say. "If we get this running, all people will want to drink from the same pond," Swope said.

For IBM, the new consortium is Big Blue's latest collaboration with Microsoft. IBM, which competes against Microsoft in e-business software and is a strong Java supporter, has spent the past year working on XML technology with the software giant. The two software companies, along with Ariba, announced plans in September to create a giant online Yellow Pages for businesses to find each other online.

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