June 1, 2000 5:50 AM PDT

IBM donates Net communications technology

IBM has donated an Internet communications technology to the Apache Software Foundation, a nonprofit organization that builds free Web software.

The computing giant today said it has given away its communications software that allows businesses to link their computing systems over the Net and conduct trades online.

The software, called Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) for Java, is based on a Web standard for exchanging data called XML (Extensible Markup Language). The product is a working version of a communications technology developed by Microsoft, IBM, Lotus Development and others that could potentially become an Internet standard for linking Web-based software.

Apache is a nonprofit group best known for creating a popular and widely used Web server technology that delivers Web pages to browsers. Like the Linux operating system, it is an "open-source" effort, allowing anyone to modify and redistribute the software.

During the past six months, Apache has worked on a new XML initiative, called the "xml.apache.org" project. Its goal is to drive the use of XML by offering free XML tools donated by software companies. Proponents claim that XML allows companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with their customers and partners. It also delivers sound, video and other data across the Web.

The SOAP for Java technology is just the latest of about half a dozen XML technologies that software companies have donated to Apache. SOAP for Java allows software developers using the Java programming language to use SOAP for its business e-commerce needs.

"We want to move at Internet speed and respond to the needs of the developer community by making it available to the open-source community," said Marie Wieck, IBM's director of e-markets infrastructure. "It's valuable to further adoption."

Microsoft, IBM and nine other firms recently submitted the blueprints for SOAP to a Web standards body called the World Wide Web Consortium. With its SOAP for Java, IBM claims to be the first company to create a working version of SOAP.

The SOAP technology is intended to solve a problem faced by businesses over competing

Gartner analyst Mark Driver says IBM's SOAP for Java could potentially become an Internet standard for linking Web-based software.

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programming models. Most software developers choose between two different ways to write business software. Microsoft supports a model that guides businesses to use its Windows operating system. Sun Microsystems, Oracle, IBM and dozens of others support their own proprietary model based on the Java programming language and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), two tightly integrated technologies.

SOAP would serve as a common communications format that would connect the various programming models together, allowing businesses with different computing systems to link and conduct trades online, regardless of the model they use.

Nine other firms joined IBM and Microsoft in submitting SOAP version 1.1 to the Web standards body, including Ariba, Commerce One, Compaq Computer, Hewlett-Packard and SAP.

As part of the Apache XML effort, IBM and other software firms previously donated their XML parsers, so Apache could take the best features of each and combine them into one product. A parser dissects and reads XML text, much like a Web browser reads HTML to generate Web pages on a computer.

In March, Sun Microsystems was criticized for not donating its parser as promised. The company has since submitted its parser, and the Apache group is now considering how to incorporate Sun's technology into the Apache parser.

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