Sun Microsystems entry into IBM and Microsoft’s WS-I (web services interoperability) organisation was widely interpreted as a good step towards industrywide co-operation.
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However, some enterprises are concerned that the WS-I would limit the choice of commonly available standards they rely on to drive down the development and support costs related to the integration of disparate systems across the internet.
The areas in question range from security and transactions, via WS-Security and WS-Transactions, to business processes orchestration or choreography through both BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services) and WSCI (Web Services Choreography Interface).
Questions are now also starting to surface over whether patent holders are entitled to royalties for use of their technology in standards implementations. Some fear intellectual property rights issues hovering over standardisation could stifle the growth of web services itself.
IBM and Microsoft had recently declined to participate in the newly formed W3C Web Services Choreography Working Group. But then two Microsoft officials showed up at the initial meeting on 13 March.
According to Steven VanRoekel, director of web services at Microsoft, the two officials attended the meeting to determine the scope of the group's work pertaining to contract language, which is intended to establish communications between end points.
But Microsoft discontinued participation after finding out the group's work on contract language did not coincide with its own, VanRoekel said.
The companies have also battled over standards such as BPEL4WS, introduced by IBM, Microsoft and BEA Systems, and WSCI, introduced by Sun and supported by BEA. The proposals are intended to support the back-end automation of web services interaction for business processes.
While Sun has submitted WSCI to the W3C, BPEL4WS remains under its authors' jurisdiction.
As a result, some Sun and Oracle executives have accused IBM and Microsoft of not pursuing royalty-free web services specifications. The W3C encourages royalty-free specifications, but its proposed policy allows for exceptions in special cases.
IBM and Microsoft, who were original authors of Soap and WSDL, said the issue was not that simple.
IBM has not sought royalties for web services technologies it has contributed but is considering each submission on a case-by-case basis, said Steve Holbrook, program director for emerging e-business standards at IBM.
Holbrook promised that BPEL4WS, announced in August 2002, would be submitted to a standards organisation in the short term.
IBM and BEA have said they would not seek royalties on BPEL4WS, but Microsoft has not announced its position.