UN and Microsoft agree on e-trade standard

Rival factions settle their differences, but Microsoft must play fair

The UN body responsible for developing worldwide policy and technical standards for e-business said today it will integrate Microsoft's SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) into its own efforts to create a global standard for businesses that want to trade with each other online.

UN/CEFACT (United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business) had been developing an XML standard for business-to-business trade, called ebXML, with standards group OASIS. Microsoft was a notable omission among the big IT players -- including IBM and Sun Microsystems -- that had given ebXML their backing.

"Microsoft's involvement can only be good news," said e-commerce technology strategist at Datamonitor, Manek Dubash. "We now have all the major players together." But, warned Dubash, success will rest on whether Microsoft is constructive in its participation. "Previous experience tends to suggests that MS has a habit of bullying its way through committees," he said.

UN/CEFACT members are optimistic that the agreement will work. In a statement, UN/CEFACT steering group member and chair of ebXML, Klaus-Dieter Naujok, said the convergence of the two specifications marks a significant step forward for interoperability. "We're committed not only to integrating ebXML Messaging with SOAP, but also to completing this work in time to meet our original goal of delivering ebXML in May 2001," he said.

IBM's Dr Robert Sutor, who is the vice chair of ebXML, said: "As ebXML evolves, we will continue to explore how we can cooperate with others to help develop the foundational open standards for business on the Internet."

The ebXML Messaging Specification is a set of services and protocols that allow one company's servers to request services from those of another company. Microsoft's XML architect Andrew Layman said the move will remove interoperability issues between ebXML and SOAP.

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