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W3C seeks standards accord

A World Wide Web Consortium committee convenes to sort out an array of confusing, yet critical, Web services standards.

A World Wide Web Consortium committee began meetings on Thursday to sort out an array of confusing, yet critical, Web services standards.

The WS-Choreography Working Group at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) will spend the next two days considering several proposals on how to automate business processes using Web services.

The capability, called choreography or orchestration, means that businesses can use XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based Web services to build software for sharing data and processes in complicated business scenarios. For example, a business could use the choreography specifications to model and execute a financial transaction that spans several companies and computing systems. Web services allow developers to build software applications that can easily communicate with one another.

While critical, the work to define a choreography standard, like other standards efforts, could be slowed by vendor politics. Other key Web services areas, such as security of messages and overall reliability of software, also are being debated within standards bodies.

Microsoft and IBM--the two primary proponents of Web services--are not participating in this week's W3C meetings. That's caused consternation among standards effort participants, who fear that competing, and incompatible, proposals could emerge.

Critics have charged that Microsoft and IBM are reluctant to work with the existing WS-Choreography working group due to the W3C's strict royalty and patent policy. Under W3C guidelines, published specifications cannot include patented technology or demand royalties for usage.

Some members of the choreography working group argue that a royalty-free approach to standards is in the best interest of customers and information technology providers.

"Unless (IBM and Microsoft) do something royalty-free, I can't see why anyone would want to go down that route," said Steve Ross-Talbot, co-chair of the WS-Choreography working group and chief scientist of software company Enigmatec.

Ross-Talbot said that if vendors push standards linked to their proprietary products, "partners would be required to license stuff, and they should not need to. That's why it's absolutely vital to be royalty-free," he said. "Personally I think (IBM and Microsoft are) shooting themselves in the foot."

Awash in specifications
Representatives of IBM and Microsoft downplayed concerns over patent issues and said they still have not fully announced their own choreography plans.

Las summer, IBM, Microsoft and BEA Systems merged their respective choreography proposals. The unified specification is called BPEL4WS, or the Business Process Execution Language for Web services.

IBM and Microsoft representatives on Thursday said they have not decided to which standards body they will submit BPEL4WS.

"We believe that BPEL4WS is the right place to start from a choreography perspective, and we are in the process of completing that work to take it to standards bodies," said Karla Norsworthy, IBM's director of e-business technology.

IBM intends to provide a royalty-free license for BPEL4WS, which will be formalized once it is submitted to a standards body, Norsworthy added.

Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft's director of Web services, said the software giant will indicate its plans regarding royalties when BPEL4WS is submitted to a standards body.

"Our intention is to have broad adoption of this specification," VanRoekel said. "We will do whatever it takes to ensure the broadest adoption of this one."

In the meantime, the W3C working group will seek to consolidate several other overlapping proposals, including Web Services Choreography Interface, which was published by Sun Microsystems, Intalio, SAP and BEA.

Also under consideration are the business processing modeling language from the Business Process Management Initiative and the Business Process Specification Schema, which is being developed in the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS).

As of now, the Microsoft- and IBM-backed BPEL4WS standard is not under the W3C's purview, although the co-chairs of the WS-Choreography working group said the two companies could join at any time.

The charter of the choreography committee is to have the outlines of a converged specification within a year. Within two years, the chairs expect to have implementation of the standard in commercial products and software to test conformance.

Oracle, which is hosting the initial meeting and co-chairs the working committee, said it is in its own self-interest to push for IBM and Microsoft's participation.

"We think Oracle is better off and the marketplace is bigger and open with royalty-free standards on the table," said Jeff Mischkinsky, Oracle's director of Web services strategy. "We sincerely hope that (Microsoft and IBM) will join in this effort."