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Companies let e-fingers do the walking

Microsoft, IBM and other tech companies launch an online Yellow Pages to help companies find each other and conduct business over the Web.

Microsoft, IBM and other tech companies on Wednesday launched an online Yellow Pages to help companies find each other and conduct business over the Web.

Microsoft, IBM and Ariba proposed the Web directory last September. Called the Universal Description, Discover and Integration (UDDI) Business Registry, it allow businesses to register with a Web directory that will help companies advertise their services, so they can find one another and conduct Web transactions.

The effort, which began with about three dozen supporters, is now backed by 260 companies, including Oracle, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Sun Microsystems, Ford Motor and Nortel Networks.

Through UDDI, businesses can request a service over the Web and get responses back from companies that offer that service. For example, a travel agency using the e-business directory could send a request for a listing of the cheapest flights from San Francisco to London. Through the directory, the travel agent would then automatically receive information from airlines that satisfy the request.

The directory is hosted on the Web sites of Microsoft and IBM. Businesses that enter the UDDI Web site will be redirected to either Microsoft or IBM's sites, where they can register with the online directory.

Ariba, which originally planned to host the site, has nixed those plans, organizers say. But Hewlett-Packard plans to pick up the slack and host the directory some time this year, they say. Other companies supporting the project are expected to host the project later this year or early next year.

The e-business directory is vital for the software industry to move toward a Web-based software and services model, said Chris Kurt, a Microsoft group product manager. Every software maker envisions a future where software can be accessed as a service over the Web.

"We see this as critical for Web services because you can discover and locate them in a single place," Kurt said.

Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler said the UDDI standard will be used not only for the public Web directory, but also within corporations and private registries run by companies such as Ariba and Commerce One, that link buyers with suppliers.

"UDDI was conceived as a public registry, but we think it will take off in private networks much faster, where companies work together in a preordained way," Schadler said.

For example, though Ariba won't host the public directory, the company will support the UDDI technology within its private directory, so that buyers and suppliers using Ariba's registry can find one another easier, said Nick Solinger, Ariba's vice president of product strategy. Ariba's customers can then be automatically registered in the public directory, so they can find even more business partners, he added.

Kurt said the companies involved in the initiative plan to release a second version of UDDI shortly. The companies will submit UDDI as a proposed standard to a Web-standards body in late 2001 or early 2002 when a third version of the UDDI standard is completed, he said. He did not identify which standards body might be involved.

Several thousand businesses have already joined the directory effort to help test it out over the past several months, Kurt added.

Microsoft and rival IBM have spent the past year collaborating on potential Web standards aimed at simplifying the delivery of each company's future software fine-tuned for the Web.

Microsoft is in the midst of a new strategy, called Microsoft.Net, to Web-enable its entire product line and move the bulk of its business to the Web. IBM hopes to unite its multiple hardware systems through integration software that will make its products more attractive to buyers setting up e-commerce sites and other Web-based services.