Microsoft Launches Interoperability Forum

The forum reflects Microsoft's recognition that "no single company can address interoperability challenges on its own."

Microsoft launched on April 1 an effort called the Interoperability Forum, a Web site where customers, developers and members of the broader open-source community can discuss their interoperability issues, ask questions and get technical advice.

The forum was first announced in February when Microsoft revealed its four new interoperability principles designed to ensure open connections, promote data portability, enhance support for industry standards, and foster a more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open-source communities.

At that time Microsoft said the forum would facilitate an ongoing dialogue with customers, developers and open-source communities.

Microsoft has also released more than 30,000 pages of documentation for its Windows client and server protocols.

Microsoft officials talked up the importance of collaboration with customers, partners and other vendors. For example, Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability and standards, noted that "no single company can address interoperability challenges on its own."

Microsoft plans to "take the lessons learned from the forum, and continue to work through the Interoperability Vendor Alliance and other industry mechanisms to collaborate on the development of solutions to those issues," Robertson said in a statement.

While the forum can be viewed without signing in, those wishing to post comments and receive notifications when responses are made to their questions and posts will have to sign in with a Live ID.

Microsoft has set the forum up to focus on three areas: interoperability conversations, where participants can ask general questions and identify issues; technical interoperability scenarios, which will look at interoperability issues and how they can be best resolved; and the controversial topic of how to achieve interoperability using industry standards.

"While standards are not the only way to enable interoperability, they are an important part of the conversation. This forum encourages participants to start conversations related to standardizing technologies and implementing standards in products," Microsoft said in a statement.

Microsoft also acknowledged the importance of having multiple technologies interoperate on multiple platforms, with Jean Paoli, general manager for interoperability and XML architecture, describing the Interoperability Forum as a means of conducting the technical discussions and scenario testing that are needed to develop real-world interoperability solutions for the market.

"We look forward to the productive dialogue and problem-solving that will take place on the Interoperability Forum," Paoli said.

But Microsoft competitors in the open-source community have responded with skepticism to news of the software giant's commitment to greater openness and interoperability, with Linux vendor Red Hat's General Counsel Michael Cunningham saying it was not surprising to hear Microsoft finally state that interoperability across systems was an important requirement and that it was changing its approach on that front.

"Of course, we've heard similar announcements before, almost always strategically timed for other effect. Red Hat regards this most recent announcement with a healthy dose of skepticism," Cunningham said.

Microsoft has also denied that its commitment to greater interoperability and openness was a result of pressure from the European Commission, though many are not convinced that is the case.