Microsoft’s Exit from W3C Group Stirs Dissent

It took only two days for Microsoft to decide it didn’t like what it saw out of the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Services Choreography working group earlier this month. Then it high-tailed it out of there, leaving stunned group members in their wake.

According to a W3C spokesperson, the working group for WS-Choreography, which aims to detail how businesses will communicate with each other using Web services, held a two-day meeting at which Microsoft employees explained their take on how choreography, or Web services orchestration as it is also called, should serve.

The meeting took place March 13 and 14, but by the following Monday Microsoft had completed an about-face, telling WS-Choreography group committee co-chairman Steve Ross-Talbot that the company planned to withdraw. A Microsoft spokesperson told it pulled out of the group because it determined the group’s work did not “align well” with the work of Microsoft researchers Allen Brown and Greg Meredith, who attended the meeting for the software giant.

“Two researchers attended part of a meeting a couple weeks ago in order to better understand its scope,” the company said. “While Microsoft has decided not to formally participate in the choreography group at this time, it is not the only vehicle in which to impact and evaluate a set of technologies, and we will continue to stay actively involved on several different fronts, with varying degrees of participation and input relative to the standardization process.”

The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) is one other such consortium Microsoft can turn to to work on standards.

Microsoft, IBM and BEA Systems are working on their own choreography specifications, WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction, as well as the Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), to articulate it.

But Don Deutsch, Oracle’s vice president of standards strategy and architecture and W3C member, said Web services will achieve its expected level of success “only if the entire technology industry coalesces around a single set of standards.” To that end, he feels Microsoft and IBM’s actions to be an affront to the process that could lead to fragmentation.

“Any decision by Microsoft and IBM to start another Choreography standardization activity must be recognized as an attempt to drape themselves in the mantle of openness while refusing to share control of the specification with others in the industry,” Deutsch told “That is, trying to have their standards cake and making others eat it too!”

Stephen O’Grady, a senior analyst with research firm Redmonk who has spoken to people familiar with the happenings, discussed the issue with

“I saw that move, and I must say that it doesn’t bode well for the future of Web services. I was just chatting with [group marketing manager for Web services standards and technologies at Sun] Ed Julson and a few others from Sun about the state of Web services last week, and while I wasn’t entirely convinced then with their pessimistic outlook, this is certainly another step in that direction.”

O’Grady said Microsoft is acting in its own interest.

“From all appearances, MS didn’t agree with the way orchestration was to be handled, and having invested their own time and effort into an alternative chose that direction,” he said. “But while many of the decisions by IBM, MS et al may make sense on an individual, case by case basis, they’re shortsighted and have the potential to be very detrimental long term.”

The choreography group occurrence wasn’t the first time Microsoft exacted behavior that representatives from other companies working to promote Web services standards found disturbing. During the same week of the choreography group meetings, Microsoft, IBM, BEA and TIBCO published their own specification for Web Services reliability after a similar proposal had been made by Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Oracle, Sonic Software and Sun Microsystems in January.

This prompted Sun to lash out at spec leaders Microsoft and IBM, accusing them of becoming a “disruptive force” that has “now moved away from a leadership position in Web services standards.”

These situations effectively highlight the differences of programming approaches and philosophies in the Web services arena today, but they may also underscore the desire for control in a market sector that, while well-defined in certain ways, has yet to reach a maturity in which market leaders exist.

Microsoft and IBM have long been aligned on this front, having spearheaded the Web Services Interoperability Consortium. Sun and Oracle have maintained that they are trying to work together within the framework of standards bodies such as W3C or OASIS, and have often accused Microsoft and IBM of working outside the box, which they claim will ultimately fragment the industry.

Microsoft Tuesday responded to those accusations: “Over the last two years, the industry has successfully addressed some of the core challenges of Web services, such as the base level SOAP and XML specs and more advanced areas such as security. Significant industry collaboration continues to take place as we execute on the overall Web services vision to provide an architecture that will enable companies to benefit from broadly interoperable Web services.”

Redmonk’s O’Grady agrees that fragmentation is possible.

“We all know that producing anything via committee is a long, arduous, and often frustrating process – and one that might not be tactically beneficial to participating firms,” O’Grady said. “But unfortunately, it’s the only sure way of getting everyone to play nicely with each other, and thereby to ensure the technologies long-term health. If MS, or IBM, or anyone else gives up on that process and starts building their own alternatives we will indeed be faced with a variety of competing standards in the Web services arena, and given the slow rate of Web services take-up in enterprises today it could well cripple adoption for years to come.”

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