Microsoft and Sun: Détente Takes Time

Sun, Microsoft compatibility progresses slowly, surely.

Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. officials said they have reached a number of significant milestones since announcing their landmark settlement and technical collaboration agreement. Still, eight months later, there is evidence of few tangible deliverables.

In a recent press teleconference to update the progress between the vendors, Greg Papadopoulos, chief technology officer at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., said that the new relationship was for the long term and that positive output will unfold over time.

"We have two immediate goals. First is that we are working on Web services specifications, which will really help future products interoperate out of the box. Secondly, we are exploring the basic common-sense approaches that let the existing product sets we both have work well together," Papadopoulos said.

"We are working toward a world where both Sun and Microsoft products will co-exist at our customers [enterprises] but interoperate and stay that way. We are very happy on the cooperation that we have had so far on Web services protocols from Microsoft," Papadopoulos said.

Papadopoulos and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Bill Gates have met with some of their biggest customers, who have given them a long list of things they want the two former rivals to work on, including security, interoperability, Java and Web services. "That dialogue continues," Papadopoulos said.

Customers such as Thomas Nau, head of the Communication and Information Centers infrastructure department at the University of Ulm, in Germany, welcome the moves but want to see results sooner rather than later. "I really hope that integration wont take too long. Getting both worlds together, not just for sign-on but also for two-way transparent file services, would eliminate a 10-year-plus problem for me," Nau said.

Greater interoperability among products would also be helpful since Naus typical architecture includes Windows on the desktop and Unix or Solaris on the back end. "Of course, there are architectural differences, but theres no need to have two passwords, two sets of data. It just adds too much overhead, and I would like to spend this time for more important duties. Same thing with [Microsofts] Active Directory and Suns LDAP/ Kerberos," he said.

Andrew Layman, director of distributed systems interoperability for Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash., said there have been 15 executive-level meetings over the past five months. In addition, two dozen engineers from the companies meet face-to-face every month to discuss technical issues such as Sun storage support for Windows Server and how to optimize Windows and Suns Advanced Micro Devices Inc. hardware, Layman said.

Papadopoulos said the companies are working on systems interoperability, not just on the server side but also on storage and interoperable heterogeneous environments. "In network storage, weve worked together on things like driver compatibility, making sure we support Microsofts virtual disk service and volume copy shadow service on Suns StorEdge 6920 storage arrays, while also ensuring that the Microsoft APIs are not only supported but also certified," he said.

The companies have made progress in greater interoperability in the identity area, where Sun has just received VeriTest certification from Lionbridge Technologies Inc. for its Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition and its Java System Access Manager and Java System Identity Manager running on top of Windows Server.

"We are working right now to validate Access Manager and Identity Manager functionality for customers who are using Active Directory as the directory for user credentials. A lot of this stuff came out of our direct customer feedback, which put identity at the top of the list of things they wanted us to work on," Papadopoulos said. Sun has also cooperated on the release of Windows XP Service Pack 2 so that the Java Runtime Environment and the StarOffice productivity suite ran well together. There was "excellent" engineering cooperation between the teams on this, he said.

Microsofts Layman said Web services is also an important area of cooperation between the vendors, which are looking to Web services as the future architecture to provide this interoperability. "We find that Microsoft and Sun have a lot of commonality in how we think about this space," he said.

Browser authentication is another area the companies are targeting. "There is concern among our customers about the relationship between Web services and the Liberty Alliance effort," Layman said, "and we have identified Web browser authentication as the area where we can probably do some great work."

But Layman and Papadopoulos are evasive about what new work could be in the cards going forward, saying solving these problems takes time. "But, as a relationship goes, we have done a 180-degree turn," Papadopoulos said. "Nine months ago, we were slashing each others tires; now we are helping one another fix our flats."


Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in Web services.