IBM, Microsoft Set Alliance to Offer Web Services

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IBM, Microsoft and other fierce technology sector competitors are expected on Thursday to announce an alliance to hammer out standards to make it easier and cheaper for companies to do business over the Web, sources familiar with the project said Tuesday.

The group, to be named the Web Services Interoperability Organization, will work on standards for Web services, the new market for software that makes it easier for different computer systems to share information. This will make it easier for companies to carry out purchasing, insurance checking and other activities online.

This is not the first time IBM and Microsoft have joined forces in the name of Web services. They have worked together under the auspices of certain Internet standards groups to develop underlying technical standards for Web services.

The new group will also include BEA Systems Inc., the sources said. Other likely members are leading technology giants such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Intel Corp. and Oracle Corp..

"All of these players that are typically not friendly with each other are working together,"' John DiFucci, an analyst with CIBC World Markets says, noting the general industry push behind Web services. "They've all agreed on this ... and that's amazing."

Smaller companies such as integration software companies webMethods, TIBCO Software and SeeBeyond Technology are also supporting Web services.

.Net vs. Java

On one side are companies supporting Microsoft's proprietary .Net Internet technology. On the other are industry giants like IBM and BEA that support the rival Java software programming language.

Java, originally developed by Sun Microsystems, is popular with developers because it can run on almost any computer system. Applications developed using Microsoft's programming language can run only on Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Web services are designed to overcome these incompatibility problems by wrapping data in a way any system can understand.

"I think this is important because it validates Microsoft's push into Web services," says John McPeake, an analyst with Prudential Securities.

Hopefully, a new standard would allow any type of business data to be repackaged as a Web service and linked to other software applications. That makes it easier for companies to share data and do business, both internally and with their partners, suppliers and customers over the Web.

"You have Microsoft and the other companies cooperating on a key initiative that I think is an important IT spending driver over the next couple of years," McPeake says.

More Standards Needed

IBM, Microsoft and others have already joined to create standards including such things as the Web services directory, known as UDDI, and other low-level technical standards like SOAP, WSDL and XML, DiFucci says.

"There's still other standards that will need to evolve," DiFucci says, naming areas such as security of Web services as a key issue. "They have not, at least at this point, all come in full support of that."

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