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Playing the role of peacemaker, IBM is attempting to clear a path to get Sun Microsystems a seat on the board of the recently formed WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization) by proposing an election among the 106 members of the group.

IBM will propose to the WS-I's nine-member board that it expand the board by two seats. The companies that will occupy those seats will be determined by an election that will be held at least two months from now, according to Bob Sutor, director of IBM's e-business standards strategy in Somers, N.Y.

"We have been trying to come up with some sort of plan the last few weeks where we could let more people into the ballgame with respect to the board. So what we will propose shortly, and the details have not been worked out yet, is to expand the board from 9 to 11 seats and to determine who gets them through an election among the members," Sutor said.

Sutor would not speculate on whether he thought the board would accept the proposal for an election, but was optimistic they would. He said the board will have to amend some of the organizations' bylaws so the election can move forward.

He said that Sun still has not joined the WS-I, although that would not be contingent on the proposal being made and the election going forward.

"This election idea makes sense no matter [whether Sun joins or not]. If Sun does not run for election then that will be the end of this whole discussion with them," Sutor said.

That said, however, IBM officials stated that they are optimistic that Sun will be able to join. "I would expect that Sun would get one of those two slots and this whole situation will clear itself up," said Steve Holbrook, IBM program director of emerging e-business standards.

Industry observers said that thus far IBM and Microsoft Corp. have been fostering the protocols through standards bodies, while Sun has been largely absent from the development of Web services initiatives, namely SOAP (simple object access protocol), WSDL(Web Services Description Language) and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration).

"I don't think people care, or that it matters all that much, that Microsoft and IBM are muscling the standards in the early versions," said Bernhard Borges, managing director of the advanced technology group at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, in New York.

Borges calls the roles of Microsoft and IBM a "benevelont dictatorship" and said that what will matter more in the long run is how effectively different vendors support the standards.

Sun has been criticized over the last several months for not wholeheartedly backing the protocols. This week, however, Sun said that it is building a server that customers can use to set up UDDI (Universal Description, Discover, and Integration) directories.

Borges continued that although Microsoft and the J2EE (Java 2, Enterprise Edition) brethren are positioning the great choice of Web services as either .Net or J2EE, in reality enterprises will use both.

"Had Sun been more open to input from others and more enthusiastic about the whole XML-based Web services movement, this would not be happening. IBM would probably have cut a deal with Sun and others way back," said Will Zachmann, president of Canopus Research in Kingston, Mass.

Zachmann and others believe that Sun playing an integral role in the WS-I can only help move forward the development and delivery of Web services over the next few years if, in fact, Sun and Microsoft in particular can calm the political tensions between them.

"I think Microsoft is concerned that Sun wants to come in and play the role of the foot dragger and spoiler rather than collaborating. I think Microsoft has some reason to be concerned about that with Sun playing games as it did with ebXML trying to make it as [an] 'un-Microsoft' alternative," Zachmann said.

Recent research from Evans Data Corp. said that a nearly equal number of developers plan to use J2EE as those that will opt for .Net.

PwC's Borges continued that Java will be a prevalent platform for building Web services, if only as an alternative to .Net.

"That is why Liberty has been backed so vehemently, even though there is nothing there technology-wise," Borges said.

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