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Sun may get seat in Web services group

A proposal being considered by the Web Services Interoperability Organization could pave the way for Sun Microsystems to join on equal footing with rivals Microsoft and IBM.

    A proposal being considered by a key Web services organization could pave the way for Sun Microsystems to join on equal footing with rivals Microsoft and IBM. But continued political battling could sidetrack the effort.

    The board of directors of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), an organization founded by IBM and Microsoft to promote Web services, voted unanimously on Monday to create a committee to develop a process for electing two new board members.

    The proposal to add the new members was put forth by IBM last month. IBM officials said Sun should be offered higher status within the WS-I because its Java software is expected to be a popular foundation for Web services. IBM is also a leading seller of Java-based software.

    Sun, which is not part of the organization, declined an earlier invitation to join the WS-I as a contributing member, lobbying instead for more influential "founding board member" status, so it can help set the group's agenda.

    The organization hopes to promote Web services by ensuring that software from many technology makers is compatible. Nearly every software maker has touted Web services as the future of software, allowing companies to more easily build software that can interact via the Internet.

    The WS-I board--which includes BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Intel--will have to approve the recommendations by the working group. Then the entire WS-I membership will have to approve the proposal before two new board members are elected.

    Besides Sun, sources have said about a dozen other companies are quietly lobbying to join the board, including Ariba, Cisco Systems, Compaq Computer, Iona Technologies, KPMG International, Novell, Reed Business Information, Reuters, Tibco, VeriSign and WebMethods.

    A major roadblock may keep Sun sidelined, however. Sun executives, who originally lauded IBM's proposal, have not yet joined the organization. The WS-I requires companies to join as members before they can be considered for board positions.

    At a press conference Wednesday, Sun executives reiterated that the company will only join the WS-I as a founding member.

    "We are confident we will be offered a founding membership," said Marge Breya, vice president of the Sun Open Network Environment (SunONE) software division.

    Or, as Jonathan Schwartz, head of Sun's software operations, said: "Don't expect us to join WS-I as anything other than a founding member."

    Turf wars still rage
    The WS-I, envisioned as a truce broker in the contentious Web services market, has instead been mired in company turf wars since its founding in February. Sun has accused Microsoft and IBM of "political shenanigans" for not giving Sun equal status in the WS-I. And during Microsoft antitrust trial hearings last month, evidence surfaced in written testimony that Chairman Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives attempted to steer the direction of the WS-I away from Sun.

    In a press conference last month, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy said: "I think those two would love to create a duopoly in the marketplace," in reference to IBM, Microsoft and Web services.

    A behind-the-scenes battle over security standards threatens to further divide the organization.

    Sun is quietly working on its own royalty-free specification for Web services security, which could rival a similar set of specifications proposed by IBM, Microsoft and VeriSign, sources told CNET News.com last week. Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group speculated that one reason Sun is planning to create competitive specifications is to put pressure on IBM and Microsoft to allow Sun to join the WS-I as an equal.

    "One could speculate a reason for doing that is to act as a spoiler and hold out to be allowed to join the WS-I board," Gilpin said. "To give a message that says, 'If you want us to play nice, let us come to the party.'"

    Sun has also voiced concerns that IBM and Microsoft might charge "tolls" to developers, in the form of royalties on patents, for using existing Web services specifications including the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI).

    Sun's Schwartz said on Wednesday that the company likes those standards, however, "we're very worried about the royalties associated with the use of (those standards). We do not believe in taxing people for use of those standards."

    Neither Microsoft nor IBM have formally stated a desire to charge royalties on the standards, which are in part based on patents held by them.

    IBM has already stated that it will not seek royalties on patents behind another e-commerce Web standard, called Electronic Business XML, or ebXML.

    "A lot of this is speculation, but you worry about it," Breya said. Sun wouldn't let that objection stand in the way of joining the WS-I, though, she said.

    News.com's Stephen Shankland and Mike Ricciuti contributed to this report.