Giants forging Web services consortium

Microsoft, IBM, Intel and BEA Systems plan to educate businesses on how to build Web services and how to ensure they do it in a compatible way, according to sources.

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Microsoft, IBM, BEA Systems and Intel on Wednesday are expected to launch a new industry consortium aimed at promoting Web services.

The new group--called the Web Services Interoperability Organization--plans to educate businesses on how to build Web services and how to ensure they do it in a compatible way, according to sources familiar with the announcement.

The consortium will promote existing and future standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS), for example. Other technology companies are expected to join the organization, the sources said.

Representatives for BEA, IBM, Intel and Microsoft declined to comment.

Web services allow software to be made available over the Internet to run identically on multiple devices, such as PCs and cell phones.

Early Web services have allowed people to access stock quotes from cell phones, for instance. But companies envision a much grander future. For example, scheduling a plane flight could trigger a cascade of actions that would assemble different options that tie in with hotels, frequent-flyer programs and other related services.

Most major software makers, including Sun Microsystems and Oracle, are racing to build and sell software that allows companies to build Web services. Microsoft next week will launch its Visual Studio.Net software development tool for building Web services. Java supporters, such as Sun, Oracle, IBM and BEA, are supporting an alternative way to build Web services based on the Java programming language.

Even though Microsoft's .Net strategy competes with the Java approach, Web services can tie both together. Giant chipmaker Intel is involved because the company can sell more processors that run on cell phones, handheld devices and servers if the Web services market takes off, one source said.

Gartner analysts David Smith and Yefim Natis say the new consortium formed by Microsoft, IBM, BEA and Intel has a promising future, but it's got a few hurdles to get over before it can grab the brass ring.

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The goal of the new technology consortium is to reduce the confusion customers may have over different technologies for building Web services, one source said. While most software companies support the same set of established Web services standards, each advocates a different approach to building Web services applications.

The technology companies have worked together to build standards that serve as the underlying plumbing for Web services. These include XML (Extensible Markup Language), a standard for data exchange and allows competing technologies to communicate and work together; Simple Object Access Protocol, which describes how Web services communicate over the Internet; Web Services Description Language, which describes what the Web services are and how to access them; and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration, which serves as an online Yellow Pages that lets businesses register, advertise and find Web Services.

But there are different versions of the SOAP specification available, for example, which could lead to incompatible software, developers warn. Analysts believe that Web services compatibility is crucial for the technology to succeed. Without it, adoption will be slow. The new consortium plans to give more details about its plans Wednesday. see special report: Web services: The new buzz

"This organization serves as the guiding factor for companies," one source said. "They want to implement UDDI, SOAP and WSDL but don't understand how. It's kind of a way to get a better understanding on how to group certain Web services standards together, so they can work well together and interoperate. Their focus is to drive the overall success and adoption of Web services."