Web services group to expand its board

The Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) said Thursday it will add two seats to its board of directors, a move that may help heal a rift between the group and Sun Microsystems Inc.

The group of more than 150 companies, formed in February to foster interoperability of Web services software from different companies, Thursday announced it will elect two new board members next March. The member companies will be elected by the full membership and will have the same rights and responsibilities as the current nine board members, but they will serve limited terms. The nine current board members, including Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp., are permanent.

The board expansion was proposed in June and has now been approved by the board’s membership. The news brought a guarded welcome from Sun, based in Santa Clara, Calif., which in the past had indicated it wanted to be brought into the group as a permanent board member.

“This is a good step for the development of the organization,” said Russ Castronovo, a spokesperson for Sun. “We’re going to evaluate our stance as a result of this development,” he added. However, he declined to discuss how or when Sun might respond. “There’s a whole spectrum of activities that could occur,” he said.

There is a history of bad blood between Sun and WS-I, which was formed by Microsoft and others with Sun, a major server software vendor and creator of Java, conspicuously absent. In fact, an e-mail message presented as evidence in the U.S. antitrust trial against Microsoft showed Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, opposing any leading role for Sun in such a group. Microsoft’s development model for Web services, .Net, competes against Java. Vendors envision Web services as a new class of applications and services that can be delivered over the Internet.

WS-I expects to release by the end of this year a set of guidelines for how to use Web services standards in an interoperable way, a set of tools developers can use to test their software, and sample Web services applications.

The new board seats were created to let more member companies participate in guiding the organization, said Rob Cheng, chairman of the marketing and communications committee of WS-I. The board is responsible for maintaining the goals and objectives of the organization and creating new working groups, which tackle particular issues, he said.

Nominations will be accepted from Jan. 1, 2003 through Feb. 15, 2003. The new board seats will be open to any company that has been a member of WS-I for at least 90 days and belonged to at least one of its working groups for 60 days, Cheng said. The working groups are open to any member company. Companies can nominate themselves and are elected by the membership at large. There is no limit to the number of terms they can serve, he added.

Elections will be held in mid-March and the new board members will begin their terms April 1. Because subsequent elections for the two-year terms will be held in alternating years, one of the initial members will be elected to a term of only one year.

Sun is getting left behind on Web services as it tries to come up with a non-Microsoft approach to the technology, according to one industry analyst.

“Sun has been fighting a losing rearguard action on this thing from day one. This is a battle that Sun has been battered and bloodied on,” said Will Zachmann, president of Canopus Research Inc., in Duxbury, Mass. Meanwhile, .Net has become a much stronger platform for Web services, he added.

Sun’s Castronovo disagreed that the company is being left behind but acknowledged the battles have done some harm.

“We’ve always been in favour of the organization’s objectives…a little bit less of the dueling probably helps a lot of people,” Castronovo said.