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IBM and Microsoft face WS-critics

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The title of the five-person panel debate at the Digital ID World conference was "Federated Standards: The State of Convergence". The answer, if there was one, was that there will be no broad convergence. Not any time soon, anyway.

The debate, which got quite heated, boiled down to people asking Microsoft and IBM to develop their WS- specs in the open, where any interested vendor can contribute, and Microsoft and IBM declining, saying such processes are not suitable.

"It's not necessarily the optimal process for everything," said John Shewchuk, chief technology officer of Microsoft's Distributed Systems Group. "What comes out at the end may not meet our technical objectives as a vendor."

For several years, Microsoft and IBM have been working on WS- specs, such as WS-Security and WS-Trust, to enable interoperable web services. While some other vendors help out, the process is strictly invitation-only.

When a spec is mostly finished, it is submitted to OASIS, Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, but sometimes it will conflict with work already done by others, and differences need to be ironed out.

Recently, for example, there was a clash within OASIS between the Oracle-Hitachi- Fujitsu WS-Reliability and the Microsoft-IBM-BEA-Tibco WS-Reliable Exchange. The two groups will reportedly work to converge them.

It gets more confusing in the digital identity space, where there's also the Liberty Alliance, which works on standard specifications for federating identities between domains, enabling single sign-on.

"Everybody has enough invested now that they can't just get up and walk away from it," said Intel's George Goodman, on the panel in his capacity as Liberty president. "It's hard to see convergence... at this point we have to focus on interoperability."

Developers expressed frustration that the companies creating the specs cannot come to an agreement on converging them, and are basically leaving it up to buyers to decide whether to implement one, the other, or both.

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