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Sun may join Web services body

Ending months of speculation, the computing giant says it intends to join a key Web services standards organization--but with some strings attached.

Ending months of speculation, Sun Microsystems says it intends to join a key Web services organization--but with some strings attached.

A Sun representative on Friday said Sun will join the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) as long as WS-I's board accepts IBM's proposal to add two new board members. If so, Sun will join as an equal partner to IBM and Microsoft.

The organization, co-founded by IBM and Microsoft, hopes to promote Web services by ensuring that software from technology makers is compatible. More than 100 companies have joined, but Sun has declined an invitation to join as a contributing member, campaigning instead for more influential "founding board member" status so it can help set the group's agenda.

Sun in the past has accused IBM and Microsoft of "political shenanigans" for not giving Sun equal status.

A Sun representative lauded IBM's proposal this week to add two new board members, which could pave the way for Sun and other companies to join the board. In an about-face, IBM executives earlier this week said they believe that Sun should join the WS-I board because its Java software serves as a foundation for Web services.

"The intent is to get Sun engaged with WS-I. This is very good news for the industry, and real progress," said Ed Julson, Sun's group marketing manager for XML and Web services. "I want to applaud IBM and WS-I in recognizing Sun's role in Web services. I'm happy to see we're getting resolution on this contentious issue and optimistic we can get this resolved."

Analysts have said that political infighting between IBM, Microsoft and Sun could put a damper on the emerging software market. Web services is a more efficient way to develop software, allowing businesses to more easily conduct transactions.

Sun's entry into the WS-I board is not guaranteed, however. About a dozen other companies, including Cisco Systems, Compaq Computer and VeriSign, have quietly lobbied to join the board. Sources say the proposal would most likely need unanimous approval by the WS-I's nine current board members, which include BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Intel. Then the entire membership of the WS-I would vote on which two companies would join the board. Microsoft executives say they still oppose allowing Sun on the board.

Julson declined to comment on Microsoft's stance but said Sun wants to work with IBM and Microsoft on the Web services standards process. The WS-I is creating guidelines and testing tools for businesses to use Web services standards in a compatible way.

"This proposal is a great step. The important thing is to get Sun involved in the appropriate manner and move forward. We think we can make a contribution," Julson said. "Microsoft, IBM and Sun are always competing against each other on some level. The standards process is not where the competition should take place."

Sun's more conciliatory stance toward Microsoft and IBM is a departure from its more recent statements.

"I think those two would love to create a duopoly in the marketplace," Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy said in a press conference earlier this week, in reference to IBM, Microsoft and Web services.

Analysts, however, have applauded Microsoft and IBM's leadership in creating Web services standards that have been adopted throughout the industry the last two years.