Tale of two Rodneys

It's Rodney against Rodney -- "Why Can't We All Just Get Along" versus "I Can't Get No Respect." In one corner are the Rodney King contenders: IBM, Microsoft, BEA Systems, and six other founding members of the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) Organization. In the other corner is Rodney Dangerfield: Sun Microsystems.

On the surface, WS-I seems eminently fair and progressive. Or as Neil Charney of Microsoft put it in a conference call with co-founder Bob Sutor of IBM, InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, and me: "It's not a standards body. It's really an implementor's forum, if anything. It's really an attempt to respond to customers telling us that they're very interested in Web services.

"They want to have some sense of security or confidence that the interoperability of Web services can be assured," Charney continued. "And the thing they've made very clear is that they wanted to see leadership and they wanted to see the various industry leaders align around a shared and common definition of Web services."

And the thing Charney and Sutor have made very clear is that Sun was not welcome in the group of initiating WS-I board members. Sutor's comments ranged from indirect to overt on the subject. "In thinking about launching this thing successfully, I felt that going out with about 30 companies would be a reasonable minimum number," Sutor said. "That would add enough weight to this. We could say, look, OK, the industry is saying something here."

Yes, Bob, the industry is evidently saying that Sun is not one of those 30 major players, not deserving of being included as a founding member of an organization dedicated to resolving interoperability among significant players in the Web services arena. As our conversations continued with Sutor over the next week, his position became clearer. Sun was a reluctant, recalcitrant player, signing on with SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL, and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) only under pressure and never as an initiator.

Certainly that perception has some traction in the standards community. But so does a growing feeling that Microsoft and IBM are pushing through the complex set of Web services standards by seeding the dominant browser with early implementations of proposed Microsoft/IBM standards and setting up quasi standards bodies to rubber stamp the resulting momentum.

Sun XML time? Ed Julson, director of product management Java and XML technologies at Sun, told InfoWorld that WS-I "is the exact opposite approach to the way standards should be developed." Rather than submitting ideas or early technologies that may or may not be collectively tuned or even completely transformed into standards from where the technology emerges, Julson suggested Microsoft and IBM are developing the technology themselves then trying to push that through the standards body, more or less intact.

Julson says WS-I goes a long way backward to proprietary technologies disguised as standards. Rich Green, Sun vice president and general manager Java software and XML technologies, sees it differently. "Ed works in this organization and he's certainly entitled to his opinion. I'm in charge of defining Sun's strategy and approach with respect to [WS-I], so I'm giving you the actual Sun answer."

Green is supportive of WS-I, or at least a WS-I that includes Sun. "If we have any concern at all, it is in fact whether or not the mandate that [WS-I] has defined for itself is broad and stringent enough to ensure interoperability. We do have some questions about the model of self-certification, and we're concerned that this body, if it's going to take out this piece of industry real estate, that it actually has enough teeth to ensure interoperability.

"We are not looking for anything more than the other founders in terms of involvement and visibility and voting rights and access," Green reiterates. "We have a lot of value to add to the party, and just as you've intimated and anybody else we've talked to -- the analysts, press, and industry community -- has cited, it is extremely curious and just has bad optics that Sun is not a peer member in this organization. It just looks kind of silly."

"It's nice to be cynical about these sorts of things," as Sutor puts it with a touch of sarcasm. "But to be truthful, we've gone out of our way to be inclusive in these things. We did a submission over a year ago January to the W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] on WSDL itself. We lined up 25 companies and simply said 'Do you want to join in? You don't have to join in, but if you want to join in, you're welcome to do this.' "Oddly, Microsoft's Charney is more apologetic about the unseemly rush to launch WS-I. "The thing got out in public even before we had intended it to. And knowing that there's a tendency in our industry where just for the sake of countering this or creating some stir or creating some visibility, we really wanted to make sure this was as broad-based as we could."

"The goal of this organization is to rise above all that," Rodney King, aka Neil Charney, says. "The challenge is how do you do that in the climate that we're in? Any of those other vendors who feel that we're strong-arming or in any way making those comments should participate in the working groups."

And here's Rodney Dangerfield, aka Rich Green: "It is important to note that we are conspicuous by our absence, that we have historic value to bring to bear, and that [WS-I] cannot have the sanctioning power that it wants to have, that we believe it should have, without our co-presence at the founding level."

Don't be conspicuous by your absence. Write your thoughts on WS-I to Steve Gillmor, director of the InfoWorld Test Center. You can reach him at steve_gillmor@infoworld.com.

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