IBM, Microsoft band together to talk Web services

In a rare public display of camaraderie Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and IBM Corp. software chief Steve Mills further cemented the commitment of their respective companies to work together to accelerate the creation and adoption of key Web services standards.

Speaking at the St. Regis Hotel in New York Wednesday, both executives emphasized that accelerating Web services standards along with the creation of exploitive applications will give corporate users a compelling reason to increase their IT budgets, thereby helping lift the industry out of the financial doldrums it has been mired in the last two plus years.

“What is really important that we can give buyers a reason to spend more on technology given the tough economy we are living in right now. We think whatever they spend on Web services to do things like connect up supply chains offers them tremendous payback. I think there is a huge opportunity for making money here,” Mills said.

“What we are trying to do (through the acceleration of Web services standards) is laying the foundation in hopes that all of that hype that didn’t happen in the 1990s can happen now, ” Gates said.

Asked if the public display of support signaled a softening in the often hard-edged competition the two companies have engaged in the last several years, both downplayed the notion.

“There isn’t a fundamental shift, no. There is always going to be a delta between industry standards we agree on and what companies (like IBM and Microsoft) do uniquely. The goal is to let our users carry out ambitious applications using standards. Think of .Net as being our implementation of Web services,” Gates said.

As part of their update Wednesday IBM and Microsoft offered a demonstration of an application that can link an automotive parts supplier, an auto manufacturer and its dealers via Web services. The demonstration, the first of its kind according to Gates, exploited “advanced Web services,” which used a combination of IBM and Microsoft products, ranging from Microsoft’s Windows Server 2003, SQL Server and IBM’s WebSphere, to the Tablet PC. In the spirit of cooperation between the two companies a Linux-based server was also part of the demonstration.

The two companies demonstrated early protocol code from WS-Security, WS-Reliable Messaging, and WS-Transaction that served as the foundation for the auto supply chain demonstration. Both Gates and Mills said they intend to submit the specifications as “royalty-free standards” to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, more commonly known as OASIS, as well as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

While neither would commit to a time frame about specifically when these standards would get presented to standards organizations and subsequently incorporated into their respective core products, they indicated that would be accomplished over the next year.

The two companies have been working together closely for three years to establish the initial set of Web services protocols including XML, SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, which both companies fully support in existing products such as Windows and WebSphere. The new advanced layer of protocols will “take Web services to a new level,” Gates said.