WS-I bolsters its ranks

AT&T Corp., Proctor & Gamble Co. and Sabre Inc. have joined the Web Services Interoperability Organization, the group announced Wednesday during a two-day meeting of member companies in San Francisco.

WS-I also set a third quarter release time for the first set of industry recommendations and example applications for making Web services work smoothly between software from multiple vendors. WS-I is a consortium of technology companies bent on standardizing a method for delivering software and services over the Internet.

The group formed in early February in an effort to device testing tools and standard documentation to enable competing vendors to ensure that Web services software is compatible between vendors.

WS-I includes technology heavyweights Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and BEA Systems Inc.

"We had a huge turnout, with over 100 companies signed on now," said Norbert Mikula, chairman of WS-I's board of directors and the director of Web services technology for Intel.

One conspicuously absent player from the group is Sun Microsystems Inc., whose Java programming language is considered to be one of the greatest competitors to Microsoft's .Net Web services initiative. Sun wants to be part of the group, but only if it's allowed to sit on the group's board, Mikula said. However, WS-I won't make changes to its board structure right now, Mikula said.

With two major competitors on the board, Sun expects parity with them in the groups' decision making, for which being on the board would be a requirement, a Sun official said.

"If you ask anyone in the industry who the (Web services) thought leaders are, they say Microsoft, IBM and Sun," said Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist. Board members have more power in WS-I than regular members, which only receive one vote in decision making. Phipps described the group as dominated by a Microsoft-IBM axis. "It doesn't reflect our status as thought leaders in the Web services industry," to be a lesser member, he said.

The evolution in the software industry toward Web services has been heavily banked on the use of standard technologies such as XML (Extensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Description Language) among others. However, while competing companies have agreed on these standards, many standards are integrated into new Web services software in different ways.

Additionally, a number of standard technologies that deal with security and user identities have yet to be agreed upon at all.

There are three working groups operating in WS-I to develop a basic profile for how the standards and protocols should work together, to develop sample applications as a model, and to create testing materials and tools for companies developing Web services, Mikula said. The groups are expected to present their first papers and samples in a few months, he said.

Microsoft, IBM and Verisign Inc. last week announced a standards push around Web services security. The companies unveiled a specification it calls WS-Security, as well as a set of guidelines for how the group believes the technology should be used.

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