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Tech giants update e-commerce standard

A gaggle of computing giants will release a new version of Web standard UDDI that provides some common ground on how competitors such as Microsoft and IBM view the future of the Net.

A gaggle of computing giants will release Monday a new version of a key Web standard that provides some common ground on how competitors such as Microsoft, IBM and Sun Microsystems view the future of the Internet.

In September, Microsoft, IBM and Ariba proposed a standard called Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI). The standard allows businesses to register with an Internet directory that will help companies advertise their services, so they can find one another and conduct transactions over the Web. The online yellow pages directory that UDDI provides is a key part of how "Web services" plans such as Microsoft .Net and Sun One will work together despite corporate differences.

Since last year, Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and others have joined the UDDI initiative, and the first working version of the UDDI directory was launched in May. But on Monday, the companies plan to announce the second version of the standard.

The new version comes with several improvements. Among them is better support for different languages; more sophisticated searching features; the ability to describe company organizational structures such as divisions, groups and subsidiaries; and more specific business categories that companies can use to describe themselves.

Web services, a vision of the Internet that is only beginning to emerge as actually useful, stitch together services that run on different servers. For example, an insurance company evaluating a new prospect could use UDDI to find companies offering Web services that provide a prospective client's credit history, driving record and address. Or a small store could use the directory to find companies that offer credit card transaction or billing services.

Registry services on the Internet are essential for Web services to succeed, and so far UDDI looks like the only option, said Gartner Group analyst Daryl Plummer.

"UDDI is the only game in town," Plummer said. "UDDI's got a long way to go, but I believe it is the centerpiece of Web services."

UDDI will do for Web services what search engines such as Yahoo did for the Internet in the mid-1990s: provide a way for people to find what they need amid a vast sea of unorganized information. Version 2, by allowing more detailed descriptions of companies and the services they offer, refines the UDDI's usefulness.

Plummber believes UDDI initially will be used in private arrangements among business partners--for example, Home Depot could use a UDDI-based service that finds light-switch suppliers and ranks them according to pricing and availability of light switches.

But UDDI faces a thorny issue: whether it will become an industry standard. Such a move would reduce the control the founding members have but could make UDDI more palatable to others by making it more neutral.

UDDI organizers have said they plan to turn it over to a standards body, but that likely won't happen in the immediate future, Plummer said. "My guess is they'll put it on the back burner" until founders expand UDDI and grow comfortable that it won't be taken in a direction they don't like, he said.

Version 3 was scheduled to be released in September, but Plummer said that doesn't appear likely. UDDI developers are meeting this week in Atlanta, Ga., to discuss version 3, he said.

More than 280 companies have joined UDDI.