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Microsoft, IBM Set Web Services Standard Pact

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates joined forces with Steve Mills, IBM senior vice president and Software Group executive, at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City Wednesday to demonstrate the latest in Web services specifications that the two companies are developing to link businesses together.

"A year ago August, Microsoft and IBM got together at one of the many Web services meetings that take place these days," Bob Sutor, director of WebSphere Infrastructure Software, told internetnews.com. "At that point in 2002, we really demonstrated some very basic Web services interoperability. It's a year later. Where are we with respect to Web services? We wanted to make some sort of statement about how seriously both companies take Web services."

Sutor explained that Gates and Mills showcased WS-Security, WS-Reliable Messaging and WS-Transaction, working with foundational Web services standards to create a supply chain solution for a large auto manufacturer that allowed it to manage its relationship with dealers and suppliers.

Microsoft and IBM, as well as partners like BEA Systems and Tibco, have been working on the specifications for some time. WS-Security has been in development the longest. IBM, Microsoft and BEA unveiled the first draft of the specification in April 2002, and submitted it to the OASIS standards consortium in July of that year. The three published the first draft of WS-Transaction in August 2002.

WS-Reliable Messaging is the newest of the specifications. IBM, Microsoft, BEA and Tibco published the first draft of the specification in March 2003, leading to a flare up with Sun Microsystems and Oracle , which have been developing their own WS-Reliability specification.

The demonstration was intended to show the utility of single sign-on (part of the WS-Security specification), reliable messaging (ensuring that a supplier gets one, and only one, copy of a purchase order), and using WS-Transaction to coordinate transactions.

In this case, the demonstration showed a woman working at an auto dealership ordering windshield wipers, Sutor said. The windshield wipers were located at two different warehouses. "The transaction was using Web services to coordinate obtaining the actual parts from multiple warehouses," Sutor said.

"This is really the most advanced thing we have shown around Web services," Sutor said, noting that it speaks to the maturity of the technology. He also suggested that one of the most important points is that the technology is "composable."

"If you don't need reliable messaging, you don't need to include that," he said. "The way we want people to think of Web services is as a set of building blocks, and you can pick the building blocks you need for the task at hand."

Sutor said the two companies also sought to get across three ideas that it shares with customers and partners. One is that Web services are not vaporware, they're real.

"It was a very strong statement saying this stuff is real," Sutor said. "All of this stuff IBM demonstrated is available in what we call the emerging technologies toolkit. It's real. It exists in code."

The second is that both companies are delivering on customer demands. Sutor noted that joint Microsoft and IBM customers, like Nationwide Insurance and General Motors, have demanded Web services and want it to work. That leads into the third point, which is that the two companies are continuing to work closely together to deliver standards aimed at increasing interoperability, flexibility, business process capability, security and reliability for customers.

"We compete with Microsoft," Sutor said. "There's no question about that...But at least at the Web services level, our customers don't want to see fighting. They want to see cooperation."

IBM and Microsoft are the two biggest players in the Web services space. IBM holds about 40 percent share, Yankee Group analyst Laura DiDio told internetnews.com in April, forecasting that would hold true into mid-2004. Microsoft is second place in the market with 20 percent share, she said. BEA, a close ally of the two when it comes to the creation of specifications, holds about 12 to 15 percent.

DiDio forecast that Microsoft will begin eating into IBM's share as it brings its large installed base to bear, until they share leadership in the space in 2005 with a 30-30 split.

As an additional point underscoring the two companies' commitment to working with each other and others in the industry, Sutor said the two have declared in no uncertain terms that all of the specifications which have been demonstrated will be submitted to a standards organization and will be available royalty-free.

"We want Web services to be successful," he said. "We want everyone to use them. This is the plumbing. We're trying to accelerate people getting on a common set of plumbing so we can focus on the more interesting stuff that goes on top of that."

Jupiter Research Microsoft Analyst Joe Wilcox said that despite the heated competition between IBM and Microsoft in many spheres, the close cooperation between the two on this front is no surprise.

"It shows us that they have a common interest around the enterprise," he said. "If you look at Microsoft, its penetration in the enterprise is by no means as great as it is in the desktop. In Windows, Microsoft can set a lot of the rules. In the enterprise, Microsoft doesn't have the same kind of market clout. The company has to work with other companies and has to be more conciliatory around standards. Obviously IBM is a company with big presence in the enterprise, both from the hardware and software installation perspective, and more so from services. So, supporting Web services is good for Microsoft. Microsoft touts it as a benefit to the customer, but also Microsoft is a big benefactor too because by supporting Web services that connect the front-end to the back-end, it can find a new role for Windows and Office and help sales of its so-called enterprise software, such as Windows Server 2003."

The demonstration was also a sign that the specifications are nearing the point when they will be submitted, Sutor said. But "nearing" is an approximate term. Sutor said the specifications will be submitted in three to 12 months. They are still being tuned, and Sutor noted that there will be another workshop in about a month in which interested parties will pick apart the specifications in an effort to do just that.