But so far, Microsoft has been a member in name only. IBM, Oracle, Sun, and SAP this week committed $100,000 each to fund Oasis's XML.org Web site. Four smaller companies, including DataChannel and CommerceOne, are putting up $25,000 each. But Microsoft, which paid Oasis a $7,500 fee to participate in planning meetings, says it's still evaluating whether to pledge $100,000.
"Microsoft wanted the good publicity of being seen as supporting this effort, but it seems that they are reconsidering what they are doing," said Josh Walker, an analyst with Forrester Research. "There's genuine uncertainty on what Microsoft wants to accomplish and what XML.org wants to do."
One Microsoft executive said it's just too soon for Microsoft to make a decision to commit to XML.org. "We need to see where Oasis is going with XML.org. People shouldn't read into it," said Marcus Schmidt, Microsoft's industry manager. "The last thing [we need] is for this to be made into a 'them' vs. 'us' war."
Oasis, however, needs the money. Oasis has raised $500,000 to launch XML.org and needs another $300,000 to $400,000 to help fund it for a full year, said Laura Walker, Oasis's executive director. "We've got what we need for the first six months."
Both Microsoft and Oasis recently launched portal sites for XML developers that host XML data exchange blueprints for specific industries, such as financial services.
Microsoft's Biztalk.org Web site and Oasis's XML.org site intend to serve as respositories for the blueprints and resource centers for companies using XML. The two compete in that both seek to establish industry consensus and provide a forum to define XML. But BizTalk will host BizTalk-specific blueprints, while Oasis will host information on all blueprints.
Some companies, such as CommerceOne and SAP, support both efforts.
The main concern among XML proponents is that major software makers will use their financial clout to influence the consensus-building process, leading to proprietary versions of XML blueprints that favor a company's software and architecture.
Walker said there are both technological and political hurdles standing between Microsoft and a commitment to Oasis. "Microsoft is waiting for the W3C to ratify the XML schema and get it to a point that can be supported. That should happen in next six months, but in the meantime Microsoft went ahead and built their own technology for supporting data within XML."
The second major sticking point appears to be whether Microsoft will still have the freedom to enhance its own initiative at a later point if it is also supporting XML.org. Walker said, "That seems to be a moot point. If Microsoft is behind the XML schema and XML.org is headed the same way, it shouldn't be a problem."
Microsoft's Schmidt said the company is not ready to commit more money to XML.org because it needs to focus its efforts on creating the BizTalk "framework," a way to create the blueprints for the specific industries, before concerning themselves with XML.org.
"They're focused on the repository element right now, but we're focused on the BizTalk framework," he said.
When Microsoft is ready to build a repository for the XML data exchange blueprints, the company will evaluate XML.org, said Schmidt, who believes there's a place for both BizTalk and XML.org.
"There won't ever be a universal repository for schemas," he said, referring to the XML blueprints. "It's the same way there's no one sports site on the Web. There's plenty of places to go for Wimbledon scores."
Walker, Oasis's executive director, said it's fine to have multiple XML repositories, but Microsoft would be showing that it supports open standards if it forked over $100,000.
"We are still talking to them and have high hopes for them to support us. It's the best thing for the industry as a whole," she said. "We're vendor neutral. We can represent the community differently than a vendor can. Microsoft would make a big statement on their openness by joining with us."
Analyst Jeetu Patel, of Doculabs, said he'd be surprised if Microsoft didn't help fund XML.org, especially since many partners, such as DataChannel, also support it. The only reason Microsoft would not is if it disagrees with the way the standards should evolve, Patel said.
"They've played an active role in XML from its inception," he said. "The only way they might not fund it is if Oasis wants to take XML differently than what Microsoft is proposing."
Consultant Kevin Dick, of Kevin Dick Associates, said it serves Microsoft's best interest in not anteing up.
"Its purpose is to provide a place to post standards so external parties can access and facilitate open standards," Dick said. "To the extent that any of these standards might compete with what Microsoft might want to do, they're understandably leery of committing resources to making this happen."
XML.org is asking members with more than $250 million in yearly revenue to contribute $100,000 and companies with less than $250 million in revenue to give $25,000. DataChannel CEO Dave Pool said he expects more companies in specific vertical markets, such as General Motors, Nasdaq, and AT&T, to help support XML.org.