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Web services body clears way for Sun

Sun Microsystems may finally get its wish to join the board of a Web services standards organization formed earlier this year by IBM and Microsoft.

Sun Microsystems may finally get its wish to join the board of a Web services standards organization formed earlier this year by IBM and Microsoft.

The Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), which promotes and develops Web services standards, said Thursday that its members have approved a proposal to elect two new board members. The move is the latest development in an ongoing political battle involving Microsoft, IBM and Sun over leadership of the group.

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Sun, which is not part of the organization, earlier declined to join the WS-I as contributing member, lobbying instead for a more influential "founding board member" status. Sun's Java software, which competes with products from IBM and Microsoft, is a popular foundation for Web services.

Nearly every software maker has touted Web services as the future of software, allowing companies to more easily build software that can interact via the Internet. The WS-I hopes to promote Web services by ensuring that software from many technology makers is compatible.

However, the election of new board members, pending a vote in March, doesn't necessarily guarantee Sun a seat on the board. To be considered eligible, the candidate has to be a member of the WS-I for at least 90 days before the call for nominations closes in February. That means Sun and any other nonmembers of WS-I have until Nov. 17 to join the 150-member group as a contributing member, said a WS-I representative.

A Sun spokesman said that Sun is aware of the requirement and is re-evaluating its stance of refusing to join as contributing member.

"This is a positive development," said Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo. "But we're not going into specifics about what we may or may not do right now."

In addition, board members elected to the two new seats are subject to re-election annually, whereas founding board members--which include BEA Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Intel-- hold their positions permanently, said the WSI representative. There are no term limits for elected seats, she added.

The entire WS-I membership will elect the new two new directors in March. Besides Sun, a dozen other companies have also expressed interest in a seat on the board. They include Ariba, Cisco Systems, Iona Technologies, KPMG International, Novell, Reed Business Information, Reuters, Tibco, VeriSign and WebMethods.

The proposal to add the new board members was put forward in May by IBM, which is also a leading seller of Java-based software, following Sun's insistence on board member status as a prerequisite for participating.

In all the political wrangling, however, Sun may have already missed the chance to make a big impact in WS-I, said Uttam Narsu, an analyst at Giga Information Group.

The organization, which has been operating since March, has already formed its committees and is about to complete its key foundational work, something called the Web services basic profile, said Narsu. The profile is one of the first guidelines released by the organization, and will define basic ways to use Web services specifications such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI).

The group plans to release an early version of the document at the end of the month. A final version will be approved by year's end, before the new board members begin their terms.

"Whether Sun joins or not, Web services marches on," said Narsu. "Nothing Sun is doing will derail that trend."