Was Sun nudged to the sidelines?

Sun fails to meet at least one requirement for Web services leadership--a personal invitation from Microsoft and IBM.
Written by David Berlind, Inactive
Mention Web services and three IT vendors come to mind: IBM, Microsoft, and Sun. So, when the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) made its debut on February 6, Sun's absence from the board, let alone the roster, raised some eyebrows.

Sun's Java is, after all, the foundation of most of the Web services solutions offered by the WS-I's inaugural board members. Even casual observers must have been wondering how an important interoperability organization could exist without Sun being afforded status equal to Microsoft and Java 2 Enterprise Edition licensees IBM, Oracle, BEA, and Hewlett-Packard. Two months later, and still no Sun.

What happened? Did Sun's invitation get lost in the mail? Or was a decision made to exclude Sun from the board? And could such a decision be part of a larger plot to marginalize Sun's Web services stature?

This much is known: Sun was invited. But the nature and the circumstances of that invitation make it clear that someone or some group decided not to include Sun as a board member.

The idea for something like the WS-I had been floating around for some time. During the fall of 2001, the idea was being discussed at business meals and industry events. By January, IBM and Microsoft officially hatched the WS-I and were lining up its board members. Oracle's invitation to be a WS-I board member arrived sometime in early January, according to senior director of Oracle9i product marketing, John Magee.

Meanwhile, Sun was kept in the dark. It wouldn't be until February 4, just two days before the public announcement of the WS-I, that Sun vice presidents Marge Breya (SunONE) and Richard Green (Java) were informed of the WS-I and invited to join with a less-than-board member "contributor" role by IBM's Director for eBusiness Standards Strategy Bob Sutor. Many other companies were offered membership during the same two-day period, according to both Sutor and his Microsoft counterpart--.Net Platforms Strategy group director Neil Charney. They have insisted that Sun wasn't singled out for a last minute invitation. But that doesn't address the question of why Sun, perceived by many as a leader in Web services, wasn't invited to join earlier as a board member.

About a week later, at the launch of Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net, Bill Gates extolled Microsoft's membership in the WS-I while deriding Sun's lack of participation. What Gates neglected to point out was that Sun hardly had any time to evaluate the proposal and was at that point considering membership.

Both Microsoft's Charney and IBM's Sutor deny any intent to marginalize Sun. Both insist that they sought members for the WS-I's board who, historically, have demonstrated leadership in Web services. Reflecting on history, Charney said, "If you asked Sun, you wouldn't necessarily get a positive answer about Web services." Sutor concurred, adding that "When it comes to the XML-based standards that most people consider to be a part of Web services, Sun does not pop to the top of that list of people."

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