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Oracle appeals to W3C on Web services

The company hopes to avert a battle over rival efforts to create Web services standards by asking the leading oversight group to pick a winner.

Oracle hopes to avert a battle over rival efforts to create Web services standards by asking the leading oversight group to pick a winner.

On Thursday, the software giant will ask the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to decide on the standard "choreography" language that will allow multiple Web services to work together within and between businesses.

At least two proposals are on the table.

In June, Sun Microsystems created the Web Services Choreography Interface, or WSCI, in partnership with SAP, Intalio and others. In August, Microsoft and IBM merged their competing languages--called Xlang and Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), respectively--to create a combined language called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS).

Executives from BEA Systems, which helped create both WSCI and BPEL4WS, said in August that they would work with the rest of the industry to settle on one standard.

Oracle executives say they hope the W3C agrees to the task--and either chooses one of the specifications as the standard or combines them into a single standard. Don Deutsch, Oracle's vice president of standards strategy and architecture, said the main goal is to settle on one royalty-free standard to prevent the emerging Web services market from fragmenting. Web services won't work effectively unless the entire tech industry coalesces around a single set of standards, analysts say.

Royalty-free licensing is also important in ensuring mass adoption because it prevents patent holders from charging people to use the specification, Deutsch added.

"Some people like to think the issue is selecting Sun's versus IBM's (and Microsoft's proposals). Our position is that we aren't sure what the appropriate approach is and think they all probably have something to contribute," Deutsch said.

"We think the activity should be done in an open forum and allow the widest possible community to implement it in a royalty-free form, and we believe the W3C meets that criteria."

Deutsch's comments mark one of the first times that Oracle has voiced its opinion on the standards issues swirling around the emerging method of writing software that allows businesses to interact via the Internet.

Oracle's proposal could help ease tensions between Sun and the tandem of Microsoft and IBM. Sun has been embroiled in a bitter feud with Microsoft and IBM over Web service standards, including a yearlong dispute over Sun's desire to join a Web services coalition that Microsoft and IBM created to promote the technology.

Sun executives, over the past several months, have been the most vocal in publicly expressing concern that IBM and Microsoft have the ability to charge "tolls" to developers--in the form of royalties on patents--for using the Web services specifications they jointly have created, such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL). Neither Microsoft nor IBM has formally stated a desire to charge royalties on the standards, which are in part based on patents held by them.

Sun, for example, first balked at supporting a Web services security specification, called WS-Security, until its three creators--Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign--agreed to make the technology royalty-free.

Oracle executives said they expect that the W3C's Web Services Architecture Working Group will vote Thursday on its proposal to create a committee to take the handful of existing choreography specifications and create a unified standard.

In addition to Sun, IBM and Microsoft, others are working on their own choreography standards including the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, and the Business Process Management Initiative.

Microsoft could not be reached for comment. An IBM representative said the company will take part in the W3C talks. "We will be participating in the discussions about this proposed working group to sort out what needs to be done and when," said the IBM representative, who said the company supports BPEL4WS.

Members of the W3C Web Services Architecture Working Group include Microsoft, Apple Computer, BEA, Macromedia, Nokia, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems and VeriSign.

Oracle's Deutsch, who said his company is neutral on which technology wins out, said he expects the W3C will support Oracle's idea to create a common choreography standard. The W3C previously accepted IBM and Microsoft's SOAP and WSDL and turned them into standards.

"We're cautiously optimistic," he said. "There are several different proposals. We will consider everything available and come up with a consensus specification."