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Can Sun Play Well With Others?

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By Brian Morrissey
With WS-I board membership in sight, Sun Microsystems must decide if it can work with Microsoft to develop Web services’ standards.

Although they continue to
over antitrust matters and Windows support for Java, a deal is in
the works that could break finally the impasse between Sun Microsystems
(NASDAQ:SUNW) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ:MSFT) over Sun’s role
in a key Web services standards body.

On Wednesday, the board of the Web Services Interoperability Organization
(WS-I) has approved a new working group to form proposals for expanding the
board from its current nine members to 11.

With an extra two elected seats, Sun could conceivably be mollified into
joining with the promise of quickly attaining equal footing with WS-I
founders Microsoft and IBM. Sun executives have repeatedly stated that the
company will not join as anything less than an equal to Microsoft and IBM.

Web services, which allow businesses computer systems to interact with each
other, have been held up as the Holy Grail of the software business for over
a year. In February, Microsoft, IBM, SAP and a bevy of other tech
heavy-hitters created
WS-I to lock in standards
for interoperable Web services across a
variety of platforms, applications and programming languages.

However, Microsoft has rebuffed longtime rival Sun’s demands that it be
permitted to join as a founding member. Without such status, Sun has said it
will not join the body, thrusting the standards process into disarray
because Sun’s Java programming language is expected to gird many aspects of
Web services.

“IBM, Microsoft, SAP have been the grownups here,” said Forrester Research
analyst Ted Schadler. “Sun is the overachieving teenager who is not quite
ready to give up independence.”

Now, the WS-I has opened the door to Sun joining as a member and then
running for a board seat, which industry watchers said it would almost
certainly get. Sun officials won’t comment on the decision officially, other
than reiterate their stance that the company had not changed its terms for

Norbert Mikula, WS-I’s vice chairman, said the move to expand the board was
done after 11 members expressed interest, not to gain Sun’s participation.
Regarding Sun, he would only venture, “There are many companies out there
that we would like to see participate and we would like to see them join.”

Noting that Sun’s intransigence could hold up the standards process,
Schadler said it is time for a compromise.

“Sun should take the olive branch WS-I has extended,” he said. “My advice is
to suck it up, bite the bullet, join and get a board seat.”

In the meantime, WS-I has forged ahead, adding about 100 members, including
AT&T, Cisco Systems and Proctor & Gamble. In April, during its first
community meeting
in San Francisco, WS-I formed three working groups
that are to create specifications for the underlying Web services’
protocols, sample applications, and self-administered tests for compliance
with Web services standards. The WS-I said the working groups should produce
offerings in the fall.

Schadler noted 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.

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