Competing Web-services vendors achieved the almost unthinkable during an industry panel discussion on standards last month: they agreed.

Senior executives from leading application development providers IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, Microsoft Corp., Bowstreet Software Inc. and DataChannel Inc. speaking at the Software Development and Expo agreed the adoption of universal XML-based standards promise a huge shift in enterprise adoption of Web-services.

The positive vibes of cooperation comes at a time when development of industry standards such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) are taking hold in the industry. Standards are needed to unify different development offerings to create solid Web-services opportunities in the enterprise market, panellists argued.

The creation of application as an aggregation of Web services is not a massive shift for developers. However, Michael Connor, chief technology officer, Web services, at IBM in Austin, Tex., said the agreement on simplified Web-services standards is a huge shift for business.

“It is a paradim shift to believe we can agree across our companies,” he said.

As a result, interoperability is fast becoming the key mantra in development circles, with XML forming much of the background for platform development.

Shel Finkelstein, senior manager, architecture and technology at Sun Microsystems Software Systems Group, agreed infrastructure development must remain open, particularly where data storage is concerned.

“There is a compositional sea-change happening,” he said of developers and end-user customers, who now have access to a choice of applications despite competing protocols.

Meanwhile, the panellists took time to actually define what Web-services are, and will be in the future.

Andrew Layman, software architect at Microsoft Inc.’s Distributed Applications Platform Division in Redmond, Wash., defined Web services as “encapsulated, loosely coupled functions offered via standard protocols.”

Brian Eisenberg, Program Director, eBusiness Technologies at Bellevue, Wash.-based DataChannel also pushed the XML bandwagon. “What we are seeing is the evolution of these distributed network protocols which go back to XML as the core,” he said.