The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) on Monday released its first draft of SOAP, the much-anticipated messaging protocol that's expected to lay the technical foundation for future Web services. The Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) standard provides a basic mechanism for Web applications to communicate with each other to provide services seamlessly to end users. For example, SOAP would allow a company Web site to display a real-time stock quote from a financial Web site, or a manufacturer's Web site to display pricing from a distributor's Web site. The latest version of SOAP is important because it represents W3C's first crack at turning this technology, which was developed by Microsoft, into an industry-wide standard. W3C officials say 44 companies including Microsoft, IBM and Sun worked on the current draft. "This is a significant milestone,' says David Fallside, who chairs the W3C's XML Protocol Working Group that is developing SOAP. "It shows the W3C is making progress with SOAP... It says we've taken ownership of SOAP.' SOAP Version 1.2 is now available for Web developers to review at the W3C's Web site. The W3C launched its SOAP initiative last September, and the international standards-setting body previously released a document outlining the functional requirements for SOAP. The new version of SOAP features several changes including: * Consistency with W3C's XML Schema, which is a shared vocabulary that allows machines to carry out rules made by people. * Consistency with the W3C's standardized naming format known as uniform resource identifiers. * Clarification of ambiguities in such areas as processing multiple message headers and handling header errors. Fallside estimates that the W3C working group will issue a final version of the SOAP specification early next year. "I think we'll see another one or two working drafts,' Fallside says. "There's some more clarification work to be done before we reach the last-call phase.' Web developers are monitoring the SOAP specification and view it as a foundation of new business-to-business interactions on the Web. Microsoft, for example, has committed to supporting SOAP 1.2 in its .Net vision for Web services. Among the enterprises that have technologists participating in the W3C's SOAP efforts are the Library of Congress, DaimlerChrysle, Canon and Philips Research. "We are the largest working group of the W3C right now,' Fallside says. "There's a lot of interest in SOAP as a foundational technology in the larger picture of Web services.'