IBM and Microsoft will this week propose an XML-based standard that will allow thousands of vendors to register their businesses in a Web-based database that will help them match up with partners to carry out e-commerce transactions, according to industry sources briefed by the companies.

The companies have come up with a standard called the Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI).

They intend to ask a dozen or so other key companies in the industry to serve on an advisory board, and together they will evolve the specification over the next 12 to 18 months before turning it over to an open-standards body.

The proposed online database would allow a company to register all its basic business information, "much like you might find in a brochure or on a Web site," according to one source.

Perhaps more importantly a company can also register all the technical aspects of its e-business, such as the transport protocols it supports.

"What this [database] will eventually be able to do is allow you to automate the integration of a b-to-b (business-to-business) transaction," said one source.

The way businesses would integrate the technical aspects of their business now is to go through the laborious process of custom-coding large portions of their products to get them to work together seamlessly.

But by searching the on-line database for the appropriate partners, companies can save time and money by contacting only those prospective partners with whom they best match.

"Even with things like Java and XML, which makes this sort of integration easier, people still spend a lot of time figuring out ways of how they are going to interact with someone's business," said another source.

"So what they are hoping for is that everyone who registers using this [UDDI] standard, will achieve this dynamic integration," they said.

Sources close to the initiative said the proposed specification gives Microsoft, typically reluctant to join such movements, a chance to look more solidly committed to open standards.

Some also believe Microsoft is getting active because it feels it is somewhat behind in b-to-b products and industry alliances compared to IBM.