Throngs join new Web services effort

About 50 companies, including BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle, join the nonprofit group led by Microsoft and IBM. But one notable giant hasn't hopped aboard: Sun.

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About 50 companies have joined a new nonprofit organization led by Microsoft and IBM to promote Web services.

As reported earlier by CNET News.com, Microsoft and IBM on Wednesday launched a new industry consortium, called the Web Services Interoperability Organization, to educate businesses on how to build compatible Web services.

Joining Microsoft and IBM as founding members are Accenture, BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Oracle, SAP and Fujitsu. As founders, they will set the agenda for the organization.

The organization will not build Web services specifications, but it will suggest to standards bodies what needs to be created, said Neil Charney, director of Microsoft's .Net Platform Strategy Group. "We want to help drive the requirements of (future) standards that will be done elsewhere," he said.

Web services allow software to be made available over the Internet and to run on multiple devices such as PCs and cell phones. Early examples of Web services have allowed people to check weather forecasts on cell phones.

Companies envision these services becoming much more complex, however. For example, people might schedule a plane flight via a cell phone, triggering other actions that would offer access to hotel reservations, frequent-flyer programs and related services.

But for this vision of Web services to work, analysts say, compatibility is essential--or else no one will hop on.

Software makers are racing to build and sell software that allows companies to build Web services. Microsoft next week will release its Visual Studio.Net software development tool for building Web services.

Supporters of the Java programming language, such as Sun Microsystems, Oracle, IBM and BEA, are supporting an alternative way to build Web services. Microsoft's .Net strategy and Java compete, but Web services can tie both together.

The Web Services Interoperability Organization has been in the works for months and will soon launch its Web site. It aims to provide guidelines about which software development tools and standards companies should use to build compatible Web services.

Although Oracle, IBM, BEA and other Java supporters have joined the organization, Sun has not. A Sun representative said the company has received an invitation to support the organization, but it has yet to make a decision.

"We like the concept of the organization, but we don't have the answer," the representative said. "There's merit to the idea, and it's an issue we're following."

Sun executives were busy Wednesday with an all-day meeting with analysts and could not be reached for comment. The company has supported other Web services standards efforts in the past year, however.

Bob Sutor, IBM's director of e-business standards, said the new consortium plans to build testing tools that allow companies to check and make sure the Web services they build will be compatible.

"We want to develop scenarios on how to use Web services and testing software and materials," he said. "We want them one way or another to be able to create Web services that talk to other Web services."

The organization will work to promote existing and future Web services standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium and other standards bodies. It will first work with the initial set of Web services specifications, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), which describes how Web services communicate over the Internet.

In two to three months, the group plans to begin defining areas where standards bodies need to create new Web services standards. It will especially focus on how to make Web services reliable and secure, Microsoft's Charney said.

Charney added that the new technology consortium is just the latest result of Microsoft and IBM's partnership for Web services. Though the companies compete in the software market, they have led the way in building Web services specifications such as SOAP.

"This is just the latest evidence that has grown out of our relationship," Charney said. "A lot of work has been done between Microsoft and IBM, and our feedback from customers was that they are looking for industry leadership" on interoperability.

Other companies that have signed on to support the new consortium include Akamai Technologies, Compaq Computer, DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor, Qwest Communications, United Airlines and VeriSign.