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Oracle seeks Web services accord

The software maker, looking to prevent a standards battle, proposes that the W3C decide the standard "choreography" language for defining how to combine various Web services.

The Web's leading technology oversight group on Thursday moved one step closer to management of a key Web services standard.

In hopes of preventing a standards battle, Oracle this week proposed that the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) decide the standard "choreography" language for defining how to combine various Web services to accomplish a particular task. Oracle and other technology makers argue that competing specifications threaten to fragment the technology and derail progress toward the emerging market.

The W3C's Web Services Architecture Working Group voted 17 to 1 Thursday afternoon to recommend the creation of a committee to take the handful of competing choreography specifications and create a unified standard. Now the recommendation must wind its way up W3C's chain-of-command before a final decision is made, said Jeff Mischkinsky, Oracle's director of Web services standards.

Ron Schmelzer, an analyst with market research firm Zapthink, said Oracle's proposal is a much-needed move to sort out the rival specifications. "It's a big mess. We need some sanity--and the W3C is typically viewed as the organization to do that," Schmelzer said.

One hitch remains, though: Most proposals for the choreography standard reside in other organizations or are the property of the software companies that created them.

There are at least four proposed choreography standards for Web services. In June, Sun Microsystems created the Web Services Choreography Interface, or WSCI, and submitted it to the W3C. In August, Microsoft and IBM merged their competing languages--called Xlang and Web Services Flow Language (WSFL), respectively--to create the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS). The two software heavyweights plan to submit the specification to a standards body, but have yet to make a decision. But if Microsoft, IBM and co-creator BEA Systems submit BPEL4WS to a different standards group, the W3C will have no say over the specification.

Two other choreography specifications have been created through the Business Process Management Initiative and a combined effort by a United Nations group and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

In Thursday's vote, Oracle, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Iona Technologies and SAP were among the supporters of the proposal for the W3C to handle the choreography standard. Microsoft was the lone no vote, while eight representatives abstained from voting, including IBM and BEA Systems.

Microsoft could not be reached for comment, but an IBM executive said it's premature for the W3C to unilaterally decide to create a standard without first consulting other groups involved.

The W3C has created some Web services specifications, while Oasis has created others. IBM and Microsoft, which are behind most of industry's Web services specifications, have submitted their technology to both groups. For example, they submitted Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Web Services Description Language (WSDL) to the W3C. But they sent their two most recent specifications--WS-Security and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration--to Oasis.

Bob Sutor, director of IBM's e-business standards strategy, said the stakeholders involved, including the W3C and Oasis, may hold a workshop in the next two months to seek common ground on how the industry should create a standard.

"The point of having a workshop is to get momentum around a single effort and a unified understanding of the problems to be solved," Sutor said. "We're trying to keep the industry together on this--what effort is done in what standards organization.

"It would be exceptionally premature for any standards organization to charter a working group or technical committee before such a workshop," he added.

Oracle's proposal to the W3C was to ensure that any choreography standard be made with royalty-free licensing. Over the past several months, Sun executives 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 some of the Web services specifications they jointly have created.

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 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.