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New Web spec has Microsoft, IBM blessing

Looking for a company offering a particular kind of Web service? The technology giants say their new standard can simplify the process.

IBM and Microsoft have put their rivalry aside once again to jointly develop new technology for Web services.

Gartner analyst Yefim Natis says IBM's and Microsoft's announcement is a step along the right road, but many obstacles remain before a true industry standard for enterprise Web services is established.

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The two companies on Thursday proposed a new Web standard that will allow businesses to directly find each other's services over the Internet. For example, a company looking to include credit card checks as part of its e-commerce Web site can search and find the credit validation service by browsing a bank's Web site.

The new technology, called WS-Inspection, is the fourth Web services standard created jointly by Microsoft and IBM and is part of the plumbing required to implement the software industry's vision of subscription-based software and services over the Web. The first three Web services standards have won the support of all the major software companies, including Oracle, Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems.

All of the large software makers have trumpeted a future in which software will be available as a service over the Web to PCs, cell phones and other handheld devices. They have worked together on the Web standards but are competing to sell businesses the software they need to build and offer Web services.

Microsoft is supporting a programming plan that steers businesses to use its own tools and software, while Java supporters Sun, Oracle, IBM and others are backing their own model based on the Java programming language.

The new Web standard, which creates a uniform way for companies to find Web services by connecting to each other's Web sites, merges competing technologies by IBM and Microsoft, said Philip DesAutels, Microsoft's product manager for XML Web services.

"We may come up with variations of a theme to initially solve the problem, but we come up with interoperable models because our customers collectively win," DesAutels said.

Bob Sutor, IBM's director of e-business standards strategy, said the new standard complements the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard that Microsoft and IBM created last year. UDDI serves as an online directory for businesses to advertise their Web services, so others can find them.

Sutor said UDDI acts like a "yellow pages," where businesses can find a list of companies that cater to their needs. WS-Inspection will be used by businesses that already know which companies they want to work with and how to contact them but want to see what Web services they offer.

"We're really just filling out the ways of discovering Web services information," he said.

To make the distinction between UDDI and WS-Inspection, Sutor uses the analogy of trying to find a person's phone number.

"Say I want to know your brother's phone number. If I happen to know where your brother is, I would look at the phone book, but there might be multiple people with the same name. UDDI is more of the phone book," Sutor said. "With WS-Inspection, I know this person is your brother. So I want to call you and ask what's your brother's phone number. I want you to give me specific information on how to find him."

IBM and Microsoft executives say they will submit the technology to an industry standards body soon. WS-Inspection is available to software developers as of Thursday.

Microsoft and IBM have long clashed in the operating system, database and desktop software markets, but they began collaborating last year on Web services standards.

The two companies first teamed with other companies to create two other Web services standards. They first released SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), a common communications format that allows businesses using different computing systems and software programming models to connect and conduct transactions. They also created Web Services Description Language (WSDL), a standard way for describing specific Web services.

Microsoft last week also announced four new Web services standards that aims to boost the security of Web services and improve the routing of messages using SOAP. IBM did not take part in those standards, which were announced at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference.

The Web services standards are built using XML (Extensible Markup Language), the Web standard for information exchange that proponents say easily allows businesses to connect to one another electronically, so they can communicate and conduct trades online.