Sun trumpets royalty-free Web services specs

Royalty-free industry specifications are needed to enable Web services to fulfill its potential as a mechanism for business process integration on a massive scale, Sun Microsystems Inc. officials stressed during a Sun “Chalk Talk” session in San Francisco on Thursday.

Any requirement that specific vendors be paid royalties for use of their technologies in standardized Web services specifications could stifle the growth of Web services, said Mark Bauhaus, Sun vice-president of Java Web services. Sun wants its royalty-free position to be accepted by other members of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) and is running for election to a seat on the WS-I governing board in March.

Specifically, Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. need to embrace royalty-free Web services, specifications, according to Bauhaus.

With the vast increase in devices accessing the Internet, which could eventually number into the billions, and the low cost of Internet access, Web services are poised for dramatic growth as a business process integration mechanism for a variety of applications, Bauhaus said, but Web services must be royalty-free and based on open standards, and specifications must be converged. “The headlines that we’re writing now are about Web services. Is it going to be royalty-free or is someone going to hijack it?” Bauhaus said.

He noted that IBM and Microsoft have produced a proposed specification for automating interaction between Web services, called Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS). This proposal has not yet been submitted to a standards organization. Sun has a competing proposal, Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), being examined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

While acknowledging IBM’s intention to provide its technologies royalty-free for BPEL4WS, Bauhaus said IBM has not committed to such a royalty-free stance for all specifications and noted that Microsoft has not even done this for BPEL4WS. “We’ve got to keep Microsoft and IBM honest to the industry,” said Mark Herring, Sun senior director of Software Business. “If these things get hijacked [via royalty requirements], Web services as we imagine won’t happen.”

Requiring royalties will prompt a search for alternatives, Bauhaus added. “The fact is, today we don’t have clear statements from all the key players they will be royalty-free,” said Bauhaus.

An IBM representative, in response to an inquiry Thursday about the company’s stance on royalty-free Web services specifications, released this statement: “IBM has already committed to royalty-free licensing on Web services specifications like SOAP, WSDL, and BPEL4WS, and we participate very actively in open-source implementations. We explore everything on a case-by-case basis.”

A Microsoft representative released this statement Thursday: “Microsoft’s overarching goal is broad adoption of advanced Web services specifications. [Microsoft officials] can’t make a blanket statement about licensing provisions as different specifications have different underlying technologies and different standards bodies have different licensing policies. Microsoft has made major technologies such as SOAP and WS-Security available without royalties and will continue to comply with the intellectual property licensing policies of the various standards bodies with whom we work.”

Sun announced intentions to join WS-I last October after initially being shut out of the organization’s formation a year ago. Microsoft and IBM were the major founders. WS-I is intended to be an open industry effort to promote Web services interoperability across platforms, applications, and programming languages.

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