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U.S. Businesses Join International XML Debate

An XML standards body from the U.S. has been invited to join four international groups to help shape the business platforms of tomorrow, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) officials announced Monday.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN/ECE), the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) invited the U.S. consortium of industry leaders to help coordinate global standards for electronic business.

The memorandum of understanding gives OASIS a seat at the table when the four international bodies discuss items of similar interest, like XML and Web services, that affect international commerce.

Karl Best, OASIS director of technical operations, said the importance of international standards for U.S. companies can't be overstated enough.

"(An international standard) is very important because we have an international economy and the Internet is international and has blown away all the national boundaries -- there is no such thing as commerce within a single country anymore," Best said. "If we're going to have e-business standards, they have to be international."

XML is a watered-down specification of the standard generalized markup language (SGML, developed by the ISO in 1986) for Web documents. XML allows developers to create customized tags and is the backbone behind efforts to create dynamic Web services in the U.S., an industry that has taken shape almost overnight and has nearly unlimited potential.

OASIS board of directors include representatives from Sun Microsystems Inc. , Hewlett-Packard Co. , Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. .

International Telecommunication Union Bureau Director Houlin Zhao pointed out the need for minimizing competitive measures taken by some companies when a standard is being developed.

"The purpose of the MoU is to minimize the risk of divergent and competitive approaches to standardization, avoid duplication of efforts and confusion amongst users," he said. "Under the MoU's Management Group, for instance, ITU technical groups will be able to share their agendas with OASIS technical committees to promote convergence where appropriate and advance the interests of the marketplace at-large."

Of the four companies on the board of directors mentioned above, three have competing Web services platforms using two development frameworks Microsoft (.Net), Hewlett-Packard (e-Speak) and Sun (SunOne).

The consortium and its technical boards meet regularly to decide on technical standards like ebXML, which was enhanced Jan. 30 by two OASIS registry committees. The organization has also adjusted its charter to incorporate the new "Web services" catchphrase, forming committees that outline the technology's practice.

OASIS, unlike the international standards bodies they've joined up with, doesn't have the authority to make its technical recommendations binding. Instead, the group tries to convince businesses to adopt the practices in use by existing members.

Of course, that's not a hard sell when many of the industry's biggest names are on the roster. Any new company or development team would find itself a minority by trying to develop a standard of its own.

That doesn't diminish the industry's need for common practices, OASIS' Best explained.

"We need to have agreement on how we do things," he said. "E-business is the free-flow of information and if I send you information, the two of us need to agree on how that information is formatted. As we add more and more partners, we need them to agree on how to send info. We have to agree."