Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer" was the dictum of the late author Mario Puzos fictional Don Corleone. Someone at Sun Microsystems must have read Puzos "Godfather" saga: By getting closer to Microsoft, Sun has given itself an opportunity to urge a standards-based solution upon a partner, rather than stridently demanding it from a competitor.
We happen to agree with Suns fundamental position on the need for growing the Web into a truly secure business platform, without further compromise to the Webs vendor-neutral nature.
Sun and Microsoft committed in April to 10 years of technical cooperation, while resolving legal disputes with a $1.6 billion wad from Microsofts wallet. It all seemed so civilized: from blood in the streets to signatures in suites.
We detected, though, a certain absence of enthusiasm, or even a lack of good faith, about two months later when Microsoft announced that royalty payments by Sun to Microsoft, expected as part of that agreement, were running behind and that no actual contract had yet been signed. That contretemps now seems to be cleared up, but weve just heard the other shoe dropping. Were talking about the statement of Suns COO and president, Jonathan Schwartz, earlier this month, when he said that any joint Sun/Microsoft efforts in Web security must take the form of an open standard. Microsoft declined comment on details of its deal with Sun. Surprise!
Sun wants the companies to offer a royalty-free means of exchanging structured data safely between IT environments using, at a minimum, .Net and J2EE frameworks. Such a protocol is badly needed; without it, we may wind up with a Web that "works best on Windows," using nonproprietary connections to deliver functions found only on Microsoft servers that support rich interfaces distinctive to Microsoft clients.
Fundamental goals of a network-based economy, or robust service-based applications, depend on something more secure and scalable than present schemes for application-to-application data transfers such as the insecure SOAP or even e-mail. It is also vital, moreover, that such a protocol be nonproprietary. We hail Microsoft for being a leader in adding useful functions to the Webs foundations; however, we note the costs and frustrations of Microsofts history of Internet server and browser security woes, which should warn IT buyers that any companys continued dominance of key Web elements will likely do buyers a grave disservice.
XP SP2s improved security, and the improved interoperability flowing from the companys investments in XML, are hopeful signs. Continued cooperation with Sun and others should be part of that future. Sun can promote that goal more effectively by being a vigorous, aboveboard partner than by springing traps in public. Microsoft, though, should rise to Suns challenge rather than retreating back to proprietary approaches.
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