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IBM, Microsoft, Ariba team on e-commerce standard

The companies plan to be the first to propose a Web standard and a new initiative next week that will serve as a giant online Yellow Pages for companies looking to conduct business online, sources say.

IBM, Microsoft and Ariba plan to be the first to propose a Web standard and a new initiative next week that will serve as a giant online Yellow Pages for companies looking to conduct business online, sources said.

The three companies--and as many as 10 other technology firms that may join the effort in the coming weeks--will propose a new Net standard and initiative that will allow businesses to register in an online database. The database, maintained by the three companies, will help companies advertise their services and find each other so they can conduct transactions over the Web, a source familiar with the announcement said.

Meta Group says the companies are proposing to develop formats, protocols and conventions necessary to maintain an online database that will help to bring companies to the Net.

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Representatives of Ariba, IBM and Microsoft declined to comment. The companies plan to give details of their announcement in a press conference Wednesday in San Francisco.

With the announcement, the three technology giants will attempt to outpace competing efforts to establish online business directories.

"Anybody in business e-commerce is trying to build a business services directory, like Commerce One and WebMethods," said Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler. "There's a whole slew of companies, but what (Ariba, IBM and Microsoft) are doing is more robust" because of their collective market clout.

Ariba, based in Mountain View, Calif., makes software that lets companies buy and sell goods online. It competes in the fast-growing market against rivals including Commerce One, Oracle, SAP and other software and professional services companies that have recently jumped into the business-to-business market.

The proposed standard, called Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI), will allow businesses to describe the type of services they offer and will allow those services to be located by other businesses via the online directory.

Businesses currently can list themselves in Web search engines, or they can join online marketplaces for specific industries, to conduct transactions.

The forthcoming directory from Ariba, IBM and Microsoft will be an online marketplace larger in scope than previous attempts to list businesses online. It will not be limited to a specific industry and will list companies participating in any business, sources said. Businesses would be required to register themselves but could then be found automatically by potential customers.

The directory "will open new opportunities for businesses. Right now, you're required to promote yourself, to make yourself known," one source said.

The standard is based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for data exchange that is rapidly becoming the preferred language of online business.

A host of e-commerce standards based on XML have appeared in the past year. Most, however, are aimed at defining a common language for specific industries and the products that businesses are selling. For instance, the travel industry might use XML to define the data structure for travel, destination, restrictions and pricing models. RosettaNet, Oasis and Microsoft are forging ahead on that front.

IBM, Microsoft and Ariba plan to release the first version of the proposed standard and eventually submit it to an industry standards organization, the source said. Though the specific standards organization has not been disclosed, the XML specification is maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium.

"This really represents the maturation of the business Internet," Schadler said. "The Internet was created for communications, not for transactions or the discovery of corporate entities or anything that smacks of business.

"This consortium is trying to do something dramatically more aligned with the needs of businesses, and it's a powerful signal of things to come."

But it's too soon to know whether this effort or other potential competing efforts will win out, Schadler said.

The announcement next week stems from a recent collaboration between Microsoft and IBM to create potential Web standards aimed at simplifying the delivery of each company's future software fine-tuned for the Web.

The two tech giants are fierce competitors in the race to build Web-based services. Microsoft recently announced its Microsoft.Net strategy to Web-enable its entire product line and move the bulk of its business to the Web. IBM hopes to unite its multiple hardware systems through integration software that will make its products more attractive to buyers setting up e-commerce sites and other Web-based services.

Microsoft and IBM previously worked on a proposed Net standard called Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) that allows businesses to link different computing systems over the Net so they can conduct online transactions. The directory to be proposed next week is not based on SOAP.

IBM has previously partnered with Ariba, selling the software and hardware to help businesses connect to Ariba's network of online marketplaces.