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Web services group all right for Sun?

The company may not be part of a newly announced effort to get a grip on the fast-growing realm of Web services, but it may join soon, a Sun executive says.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems may not be a member of a newly announced effort to get a grip on the fast-growing realm of Web services, but the company could join soon, the head of Sun's software group said Wednesday.

Sun was conspicuously absent from an announcement earlier Wednesday of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I). But Sun only just heard about the group and doesn't reject working with it, said Pat Sueltz, general manager of Sun's Software Systems Group, in an interview Wednesday at the company's analyst meeting.

"It looks good to me," Sueltz said. "I think there's a pretty good chance" that Sun will join, she said.

Sueltz said that Sun had little time to review the initiative. Marge Breya, vice president of Sun One, the company's sevices-on-demand effort, got the call from IBM on Monday. Sueltz declined to speculate why the invitation had come so close to the official unveiling.

Though Sun hasn't always been in the vanguard of the Web services movement, it's an important player in the area. Not only are its servers very popular on the Internet, but Sun laid much of the groundwork for the concepts behind Web services.

Web services, pioneered by Microsoft among others, refers to a collection of software standards that companies hope will bring many of the programs now running on desktop computers to the Internet. And in a Web services world, the act of booking an airplane flight could invoke Web services running on many different companies' servers, handling tasks such as charging a credit card, debiting a frequent-flier mile account, reserving a seat and sending out a rental car special offer.

Web services standards would allow these sorts of services to be assembled on the fly, though most expect early uses to rely on explicit partnerships between cooperating companies.

But with so many companies and standards involved, from IBM and Microsoft to Sun and BEA Systems, Web services has been a muddle. The WS-I aims to better control the arrival of new standards and testing to ensure that products comply with the standards.

"We're glad somebody is picking up stewardship," Sueltz said.

Sun has admitted to being late to the Web services game, though it's now catching up.