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Web services body adds 50 members

AT&T and Cisco Systems are among those joining the Web Services Interoperability Organization, pushing total membership above 100 companies. Still absent: Sun.

AT&T, Cisco Systems and Procter & Gamble are among the latest companies to join a key Web services standards organization aimed at promoting the emerging technology.

The Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) said Thursday that it has gained 50 new members, bringing its total membership to more than 100 companies. The organization's stated goal is to promote Web services and ensure that software from various technology makers is compatible.

The group, created by IBM and Microsoft in February, is meeting for the first time this week in San Francisco to sketch out its objectives.

In the next few years, analysts expect Web services to gain in popularity as a more efficient way to build software. Web services allows businesses with different computing systems to more easily interact and conduct transactions. But analysts and technology buyers warn that Web services won't catch on industrywide unless there is a widely accepted way of linking systems.

In a two-day meeting that began Wednesday, organizers say, the WS-I has come up with three initial tasks and has created teams, or "working groups," to accomplish them by this fall, said Norbert Mikula, Intel's director of Web services technology and co-chair of WS-I's marketing committee.

One team will identify the key specifications for Web services, including Extensible Markup Language (XML), the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL), and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI). It also will create the guidelines for using them to ensure compatibility, Mikula said.

Those four specifications have emerged as key to making Web services work across multiple computing systems. To understand how these protocols work together, imagine an ordinary phone call. In Web services parlance, XML represents the conversation, SOAP describes the rules for how to call someone, and UDDI is the phone book. WSDL describes what the phone call is about and how you can participate.

Mikula said a second team will create sample applications that will serve as examples for businesses that want to create Web services. A third team will create a set of tests that businesses can use to ensure that the Web services they create work on all hardware, software and programming languages, he said.

see special report: Web services: The new buzz After the initial tasks are done, the organization will look at other pressing issues, such as security specifications that are still being created and are winding their way through industry standards groups like the World Wide Web Consortium, said Rob Cheng, an Oracle senior product marketing analyst and co-chair of WS-I's marketing committee.

Still missing from the WS-I's list of supporters is Sun Microsystems, which has lobbied to join at equal status as group co-founders IBM and Microsoft.

Sun was invited to join as a "community member" in February but has instead campaigned to join as a more influential "founder," so it can sit on the group's board and set its agenda. Other WS-I founders include BEA Systems, Oracle, Intel, Hewlett-Packard and SAP.

Oracle's Cheng and Intel's Mikula said the WS-I board has decided against adding Sun or other companies as founders for the time being, but it still invites Sun to join. Community members have a big role to play even if they don't have founder status, they said.

"We're focused on the work. We're really welcoming companies that can contribute," Cheng said. "All the work is being done by working groups."

Sun executives in the past have said the company will join as a community member if it has no other option, but the company has not yet formally heard from the WS-I of its decision.

"It's still an open question as far as we're concerned, and until we're formally notified, we can't understand what our options are," said Ed Julson, Sun's director of product management of Java and XML software. "We want to be part of this process. We recognize the importance of interoperability, and think we have a lot to offer. But the responsibility rests on WS-I to accept or deny that request."

Other new members joining the WS-I include Hitachi, Unisys, Ascential Software, Bowstreet, Corel and SilverStream Software. Companies that originally joined included Compaq Computer, DaimlerChrysler, United Airlines and VeriSign.