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Web services standards face a split

IBM, Microsoft and BEA plan to submit a high-profile proposal to the OASIS standards body, despite an effort by the World Wide Web Consortium to sort through similar ones.

IBM, Microsoft and BEA Systems plan to submit a high-profile Web services proposal to the OASIS standards body, company executives say, despite an ongoing effort by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to sort through similar ones.

Led by the three powerhouse companies, about 20 businesses will propose the creation of a technical committee within the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to standardize the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL), which is used to automate complex business processes. The companies, which include SAP and Siebel Systems, planned to make the submission to OASIS as early as Tuesday, according to the IBM executive. An official announcement from OASIS is expected in about a week.

Executives at IBM, Microsoft and BEA said that any products based on BPEL can be sold without any royalties to the authors of the specification. IBM and Microsoft intend to implement the BPEL standard within their respective products this year, company executives said.

The group of companies, which originally authored BPEL, also plans to publish an update to the BPEL specification when it is submitted to OASIS.

The submission of BPEL to OASIS is the latest move in a series of maneuvers related to Web services standards. By using Web services standards based on Extensible Markup Language (XML), businesses can more easily share information between disparate systems. Analysts say that the ability to automate a multiple-step business process via Web services--called choreography or orchestration--is an important capability to drive broader adoption of Web services.

The W3C in January created a choreography working group to sort out several overlapping standards proposals. The group has garnered membership from several companies, including industry heavyweights Oracle, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard.

The W3C requested that IBM, Microsoft and BEA participate in the choreography working group and submit the BPEL specification for consideration. Microsoft representatives attended the first face-to-face meeting last month but decided to break with the working group after one day.

IBM and Microsoft executives said they decided to submit BPEL to OASIS because it has been active in recent Web services standards


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bets on the BPEL4WS spec.


efforts, including WS-Security, which the two companies have spearheaded. Although members of the OASIS technical committee will monitor the work done at the W3C's choreography group, there are no plans for it to officially interact with the W3C, IBM and Microsoft executives said.

"We're hopeful that the choreography field is big enough that there are complementary areas on which the (W3C choreography) group can work, rather than focusing on areas that don't allow us to build momentum," said Karla Norsworthy, director of e-business technology at IBM.

By joining forces with enterprise application providers SAP and Siebel, IBM, Microsoft and BEA have mustered considerable weight behind BPEL and its standardization through OASIS, according to some analysts.

"BPEL is gaining traction right now," said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst at research firm ZapThink. "The bottom line is that the W3C is out of their league on this."

BEA, for one, which participated in the original W3C choreography meeting, is shifting its allegiance. "We believe that the rallying point in the industry will be the work done in OASIS," said John Kiger, director of Web services strategy at BEA.

Oracle, a co-chair for the W3C choreography working group, said it was "disappointed" by the move to submit BPEL to OASIS.

"We did not want any potential fragmentation of Web services standards. And when you set up a second activity when there is already one under way, there is always that potential," said Don Deutsch, vice president of standards strategy for Oracle. Deutsch said he hopes that the W3C work can continue and become complementary to the OASIS standardization process, if members of both groups are willing to coordinate.

SAP, which co-authored a standard proposal called Web Service Choreography Interface (WSCI) that overlaps with BPEL, is backing BPEL and will incorporate the standard with its NetWeaver integration software by early in the fourth quarter this year. SAP will continue to participate in the W3C standardization process to track that group's progress, a company representative said.

One of the stated reasons for standardization of Web services choreography through the W3C is that the W3C has a defined policy regarding patents and royalties. In general, companies cannot charge royalties on patented software that is used within a W3C standard. Critics of IBM and Microsoft contend that the two companies shunned the W3C choreography effort because of issues related to patents.

Although the OASIS submission will be royalty-free, Deutsch said, it would still be important to view the details regarding the royalty terms around the OASIS submission once they are published. "One man's royalty-free may not be another man's royalty-free," Deutsch said. "The proof is in the legalisms defined in the usage policy."

IBM, Microsoft and BEA executives said they expect that there will be several products based on the BPEL specification that will not demand royalty payments, including open-source versions of BPEL.

Martin Chapman, who is the co-chair of the W3C choreography working group, said that although he was "perplexed and disappointed" by the decision to submit BPEL to OASIS, the move may help focus the work done at the W3C. Currently, the group's charter is very broad, he said.

"In some way, they could be doing us a favor," Chapman said. "(But) it's really up to the members whether they want to compete or cooperate."