Proposal to unify Web services standards gets backing

A proposal by Oracle Corp. that could help unify emerging specifications for orchestrating Web services met with a mostly positive reaction Thursday at a meeting of the World Wide Web Consortium.

The database vendor asked a W3C working group to form a new industry-wide working group whose charter would be to find consensus among a handful of emerging Web services standards for choreographing business-to-business transactions. Oracle said it was concerned that too many overlapping specifications, supported by various vendors, already exist.

The proposal was put to a vote Thursday at a meeting of the W3C's Web Services Architecture Working Group in Washington. The proposal drew 16 votes in favor, eight abstentions, and one vote against, from Microsoft, according to Jeff Mischkinsky, Oracle's director of Web services standards, who attended the meeting.

"The W3C works by consensus, so the chairs will report the outcome to the Web services coordinating group and they'll decide whether this represents a strong enough consensus" to move forward, Mischkinsky said. He noted that the votes had yet to be tallied officially.

According to the W3C, two votes were taken. The first, to determine whether action needs to be taken on Web services choreography and orchestration, was unanimous. The second vote, on whether that work should be done within the W3C, received support from an "overwhelming majority," said W3C spokeswoman Janet Daly. The W3C would not provide official tallies on who voted in what way.

According to Oracle's Mischkinsy, among those abstaining were BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp. A spokesman for BEA confirmed that his company was among those who abstained but declined further comment, saying the meeting was not intended to be a public one. Spokespeople for IBM and Microsoft were unable to confirm their companies' positions late Thursday. Microsoft also declined comment on Friday as well.

Microsoft, BEA, and IBM have promoted a Web services choreography specification dubbed BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services), which was proposed shortly after Sun Microsystems submitted a similar plan, called Web Services Choreography Interface, to W3C. BPEL4WS has not been formally submitted for W3C perusal.

The working group's vote does not necessarily mean a new working group will be formed for Web services choreography, Daly said. The entire W3C must now ponder the issue.

Under Oracle's proposal, the working group would help define a unified choreography language that would be based on WSDL. It argued that Web services standards should be developed in the open and be made available on a royalty-free basis.

Novell has made a similar argument. Daly said technology recommended by W3C must be available on a royalty-free basis.

At issue is a specification that would provide developers with a high-level view of how different types of Web services could be brought together, or "choreographed," to form larger, more complex applications. For example, the specification might provide a standard way of describing a Web service for authorizing credit cards which could then be tied into, say, an online auction service.

A number of choreography-related proposals have been proposed recently besides BPEL4WS and WSCI. Other proposals include WSCL (Web Services Conversation Language), BPML (Business Process Modeling Language), and ebXML BPSS (Business Process Specification Schema).

Oracle's plan seeks to include deliverables such as a requirements document, usage scenarios, and specifications of the choreography language and associated XML schema as well as a test suite for interoperability.

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