Microsoft, IBM Join To Promote Web Services

Setting aside bitter competitive rivalries, executives at Microsoft and IBM have joined forces to showcase advances in standards that will allow widespread use of Web services to help companies interact with each other.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and IBM’s top software executive, Steve Mills, briefed reporters on the advances, particularly in the areas of Web services security, transactional and real-time messaging platforms. The companies are hoping the standards will be adopted across the computing industry.

The event marked a departure for the two tech giants, which have had a chilly relationship for nearly a decade but have agreed to work together on Web services standards. A separate group, the Sun Microsystems-led Liberty Alliance, also is at work on a similar framework.

Back to Life

“Web services are important to the foundation of the Internet, enabling e-commerce to become a reality,” Gates said during the demonstration. He added that Microsoft’s .NET architecture and IBM’s WebSphere software together will help provide a “rich new layer that will take Web services to a new level.”

The demonstration, which also used Linux software and other companies’ products to underscore how Web services can work across platforms, comes ahead of an expected endorsement of some of the standards by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (Oasis). The companies have been working on the standards with other partners, including security firms, for about three years.

“The code works,” Gates said, underscoring the message of the demonstration. “The hard part is behind us.”

Both Gates and Mills said the standards could help revive software spending because enterprises will no longer have to worry about system incompatibilities among key partners and customers.

“This will bring more life to the software industry,” Mills said. “This is critical for making businesses interoperate.”

Safe and Secure

However, analysts say the hype surrounding Web services will be realized only when enterprises feel confident about opening up systems to their partners.

“The reason you see both Liberty and the IBM/Microsoft group working on security first is that [they] know that’s a big stumbling block right now,” Jason Bloomberg, an analyst with Web-services research firm ZapThink LLC, told the E-Commerce Times.

IBM and Microsoft said their system, which they demonstrated by using a single sign-on and mechanisms that identify trusted partners and allow them to log on to multiple networks at once, addresses security concerns. However, Bloomberg said a recent spate of security flaws in Microsoft products, coupled with an admission from IBM that its popular database product has a security weakness, may make that pitch a harder sell.

He noted that competition for standards supremacy between the Microsoft/IBM and Sun-led groups is natural and even will help stronger standards be developed.

“In the end, the goal of both groups is to have interoperability, so it makes sense that everyone will adopt whatever standard works the best,” he said.

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