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Standards group shakes up Web services

An OASIS committee is taking up the task of standardizing a specification for automating complex business processes, bypassing a similar effort by the W3C.

A standards body officially formed a committee Tuesday to take up the task of standardizing a specification for automating complex business processes.

A group within the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) will meet next month to discuss the technical development of Business Process Execution Language for Web services (BPEL), a proposal led by several companies, including IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems and SAP.

Those companies intend to submit BPEL to the OASIS technical committee under royalty-free terms, which means that other companies can create products from the resulting standard without having to pay a fee to the original authors of the specification, which include IBM, Microsoft and BEA.

Products that adhere to the BPEL specification should make it easier for businesses to create Web services applications that automate multistep business processes such as handling an insurance claim. Web services is a term to describe a set of standards and programming methods for building applications that can easily share data across disparate systems.

The build-up to the technical committee's first meeting at OASIS next month has been marked by some controversy.

By seeking to standardize the Web services business specification through OASIS, backers of BPEL bypassed a similar effort by standards body the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). The W3C choreography working group was formed at the beginning of this year with the goal of sorting through several overlapping proposals for automating business processes using Web services.

Oracle, Sun Microsystems, BEA and SAP are members of the W3C's choreography working group, but BEA and SAP have decided to throw their weight behind BPEL. IBM and Microsoft were invited to participate in the W3C's standardization process, but declined. Microsoft attended the first meeting of the W3C's choreography working group, but left after one day.

Backers of the W3C say it's a better forum to standardize Web services because it has a clearer policy on royalties and patents than has OASIS. In the W3C process, companies that submit intellectual property to a standard cannot charge fees for other companies to build products based on the standard. Microsoft and IBM executives said they chose to standardize BPEL through OASIS rather than the W3C because OASIS already is working on other IBM- and Microsoft-backed Web services standards such as Web services security.

Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft's director of Web services marketing, reiterated that the BPEL authors do not plan to charge royalties on any products based on BPEL. He indicated that royalties could slow implementation of business process automation products using Web services.

"Hopefully, it's been clear from the beginning that broad adoption is the No. 1 goal," VanRoekel said. "Every Web services specification we've worked on so far has been royalty-free."