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Microsoft, IBM Hash Out Web Services Specification

With the notion that Web services are a relatively new blip on the radars of tech firms, it makes sense for rivals to work together in the early going to hash out standards. IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. apparently agree as the two revealed Thursday that they have developed an XML-based Web services specification, called Web Services Inspection (WS-Inspection).

The WS-Inspection specification defines how an application can discover an XML Web service description on a Web server to help developers browse Web servers for XML Web services more efficiently. It also allows XML Web service providers to lump sets of related service descriptions, and also creates a way to correlate XML Web services with other types of content, such as HTML pages. Simply, the spec is about boosting interoperability among XML Web services.

To be sure, Gartner Inc. said the stage is set for Web services to be one of the hotttest trends over the next couple of years. And the sector is so nascent that Gartner said it is quite underestimated. The research firm beleives that by 2005, Web services will drive a 30 percent increase in the efficiency of IT development projects for functionality inclusion.

Competition is also sure to be fierce, as Microsoft pushes forward with its Web service inititative .NET, which was recently answered by Sun Microsystems Inc.'s SunOne push.

But for now, Microsoft and IBM are content to play nice in the Web services sandbox. Thursday's announcement is a continuation in a long trail of Web services partnerships for the two giants, as the two began working on Web services together in April 2000 when they learned that they we trying to develop similar offerings. IBM came forth with its own Web services specification approach in November 2000 -- the Web Services Description Language (WSDL).

According to Bob Sutor, director of E-business Standards Strategy at IBM, while Big Blue didn't agree on all apsects of Microsoft's Web service philosophy, it did find enough to agree with the software giant to work together.

WS-Inspection is the latest step in that progression; it complements the firms' co-authored Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) global directory technology by facilitating the discovery of available services on Web sites not available in UDDI registries.

Sutor provided context for InternetNews.com.

"Let's say you are a bank that offers electronic credit card validation," Sutor said. "It's nice for you to create a service, but how does anyone know it exists? You have to advertise. If I'm an e-commerce operator, as part of my processing at some point I'm going to want credit card validation, right? As I am building my system, I need to discover those banks or organizations that do credit card validations."

On the other side of this coin, in general, users can look upon WS-Inspection as a virtual Yellow Pages for services. With a direct inspection approach, the new specification would bring the user to the appropriate service provider.

Sutor summed it up thus: "It makes concrete formats and conventions for doing inspection of a business' Web site."

WS-Inspection also builds on Microsoft's SOAP Discovery technology built into Visual Studio .NET. Proposed as a standard interface to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), SOAP is a way for a program running in one kind of operating system to communicate with a program in the same or another kind of an operating system by using the HTTP and XML as the mechanisms for information exchange. Basically, you could run allow Windows-based programs to interact with those for Linux.

WS-Inspection implementations are available with the latest version of the IBM Web Services ToolKit (WSTK) 2.4.1 and Microsoft Visual Studio .NET. WS-Inspection capabilities for Microsoft Visual Studio .NET can be downloaded free from Microsoft's Developer Network Web site here.

IBM and Microsoft expect to submit WS-Inspection to an appropriate standards body.