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WS-I Bringing Balance to Web Services Force

While the battle over dominance in the Web services sector rages on, one standards group is looking to bring a so-called "balance to the Force."

The Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) Thursday said its 150-membership has agreed to hold elections for two new board positions. The San Francisco-based organization said it is creating the positions in response to early requests for equal representation outside of WS-I's nine founding companies: Oracle , IBM , Microsoft , BEA , Fujitsu, Intel , Accenture , Hewlett-Packard and SAP .

To be eligible to run for the board position, a company must be a WS-I contributing member in good standing for 90 days before the election - November 15. Nominations will be accepted beginning January 1, 2003 and must be received no later than February 15, 2003. Any company interested in running for board election will need to join the organization and participate in its work.

Elections will take place in middle of March 2003. The term for the newly elected directors will begin on April 1, 2003.

"We are actually staggering the two-year terms to make it an alternating position," said Rob Cheng, a senior product marketing manager and chair of WS-I marketing committee for Oracle. "What will happen is that the company that receives the most votes will be elected to a two-year term. The runner up will get a one-year term."

Cheng said the elected board seats have the same rights and responsibilities as all the current board members. There are no term limits and companies can be re-elected.

"The goal is to make the board more open and to let more companies participate at the board level and guide the evolution for Web services," said Cheng.

More than a dozen companies have already expressed interest in becoming WS-I board members including VeriSign and Cisco Systems , but one name that continues to be absent from the list is Sun Microsystems .

The Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking giant has repeatedly said they would pull a Groucho Marx and not be a part of any organization that would have them, especially if they could not be equal partners with the likes of Microsoft.

But with the elected positions designed as peer membership, CEO Scott McNealy may change his mind.

The WS-I's important work is to rise above software industry politics and give CIOs and companies confidence that the software they're buying conforms with basic conventions of interoperability," said Ted Schadler, group director of research at Forrester Research. "

While Sun called the news a "positive development," spokesman Russ Castronovo said the company has not committed to joining WS-I just yet.

"We have always said that we are in favor of what WS-I stood for," Castronovo said. "We have a lot to bring to the party. The fact that WS-I is opening up the board is encouraging and Sun will most likely stop carping on the two-tier status of its membership. But, we're not going into specifics about what we may or may not do right now."

One of several companies hoping Sun joins under the current parameters is Oracle.

"I know that Oracle has a contact with Sun in joining the WS-I," Cheng told internetnews.com. " Oracle has been one of the champions of Web services and we are very positive about making it an open platform. It is part of our philosophy - not just the WS-I but with the W3C and the Java community process (JCP)."

Schadler has said in the past that joining WS-I is not only in the interest of the Web services industry, but Sun's as well.

"The outcome is inevitable," Schadler said, pointing out that Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) interoperability would certainly be codified. "It is about the pace of adoption due to users' comfort level" that is at risk.

Meantime, new research from Jupiter Research (a unit of this site's corporate parent) says Web services is in danger of losing relevance, which could be the reason why 82 percent of surveyed executives claim they are using the technology in some capacity.

Jupiter suspects that companies are increasingly referring to any messaging-oriented, Internet-based architecture as Web services, but nevertheless 64 percent of the 403 U.S. respondents say that their organization uses the technology to integrate internal applications beyond the firewall; 46 percent claim to use Web services to integrate with known suppliers, customers, or partners; 28 percent provide services to new customers; 19 percent discover/interact with third parties; and 18 percent don't deploy any Web services technology at all.