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Tech giants back new Web services

Microsoft, IBM and BEA Systems plan to announce new specifications that they hope will spur use of emerging software designed to foster business interaction over the Internet.

Microsoft, IBM and BEA Systems plan to announce new specifications Monday that the companies hope will help drive adoption of Web services.

The first specification--called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services--is a programming language for defining how to combine Web services to accomplish a particular task. Web services are emerging methods of writing software that allows businesses to interact via the Internet.

The second, WS-Coordination, describes how individual Web services within that task interact. A software programmer, for example, can stitch together Web services into a sequence of operations to accomplish a particular task. The third specification, called WS-Transaction, is used to ensure that transactions all complete successfully or fail as a group.

Using Web services, an online travel site could connect to airlines, hotels and car rental agencies, allowing a traveler to book an airplane, hotel room and car at the same time. If all three reservation requests are successful, the traveler can complete the transaction. But if the airplane request is not successful, the computing system can undo the hotel room and car rental request--and ask the traveler to submit another travel request.

"These three specs show our commitment to ensuring that Web services technologies go beyond business-to-business, go beyond integration, and are suitable for enterprise applications," said Bob Sutor, IBM's director of e-business standards strategy.

The three new specifications are the latest in a series of Web services guidelines that Microsoft, IBM and their industry partners have created to advance the Web services effort. The Business Process Execution Language merges two languages--Microsoft's Xlang and IBM's Web Services Flow Language--that the two companies originally created separately.

In February, the pair created the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) Organization, an industry group charged with promoting Web services and ensuring that they are compatible. In April, Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign released WS-Security, a specification that encrypts information and ensures that the data being passed between companies remain confidential.

Before that, IBM and Microsoft created specifications that garnered widespread support from the industry: The Simple Object Access Protocol, a communications technology that glues together different computing systems so businesses can interact and conduct transactions; Universal Description, Discovery and Integration, which lets businesses register in a Web directory to advertise their Web services and find each other easily; and Web Services Description Language, which allows businesses to describe programmatically what a Web service does.

The companies plan to submit the three new specifications to a standards body, but have yet to decide the body they will work with, said Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft's director of Web services marketing.

BEA's decision to partner with IBM and Microsoft on the new guidelines is an about-face for some of the standards work the business software maker had done in the past, Giga Information Group analyst Uttam Narsu said.

For example, BEA previously worked with Sun Microsystems to create Web Services Choreography Interface, which describes how multiple Web services can work together within and between businesses. That specification performs some of the same functions as the new specifications announced by Microsoft, IBM and BEA.

John Kiger, BEA's director of product marketing, said Thursday that the company will work with the rest of the industry to settle on one common standard.

"What we are doing is taking much of the knowledge we gained in that (earlier) effort and applying that to the specs we are talking about today," he said. "We will drive convergence in standardization."