Skeptics Question Microsoft Interoperability Pitch

News Analysis: Despite the company's recent moves to reach out to the open-source community, some remain unconvinced.

BOSTON—Some members of the open-source community are skeptical about Microsofts efforts to bridge incompatibilities between software licensed under the GNU General Public License and its own commercial software.

Bob Muglia, the senior vice president of Microsofts server and tools business, told eWEEK in an interview at its annual TechEd developer conference here that the software titan is open to ways of working with the open-source community broadly.

"Even in the GPL space we are trying to find ways in which we can build bridges to GPL, but the bridge has to be carefully constructed," Muglia said.

Microsoft wants to ensure that it can work with software licensed under the GPL and that people can build solutions on GPL that interoperate with Microsofts offerings, he said.

This outreach initiative is being driven by Bill Hilf, who established Microsofts Linux and open-source lab, along with Craig Mundie, the companys chief technology officer for advanced strategies and policy, and his group, as they work on many of the companys broad standards efforts.

Asked what the reaction from the community to Microsofts outreach on this front has been, Muglia described it as "skeptical but intrigued."

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read more about the interview with Muglia regarding Microsofts attempts to learn from and reach out to the open-source community, click here.

Con Zymaris, CEO of Cybersource in Melbourne, Australia, is one such skeptic. He said that if Microsoft is serious about improving its interoperability with the open-source industry, it could start by publishing, in a technically and legally unencumbered format, the protocols for Exchange-Outlook interaction.

The open-source world works with open standards, such as IMAP, iCalendar and LDAP, and makes that work public, he said. "Microsoft is given open access to these protocols. We need to have open access to the Exchange equivalents. We dont need to see code, just viable protocols, as documented in the IETF RFC [Internet Engineering Task Force Request for Comment] documents," he said.

Lastly, Microsoft could participate in the process of creating network interoperability in HTTP and SMB/CIFS (Common Internet File System), DNS (Domain Name System) and LDAP, to ensure that its applications play nice with everyone elses. "Simple stuff. But obviously too threatening for Microsoft to agree to," Zymaris said.

Jeremy Moskowitz, a Microsoft MVP (Most Valued Professional) and an authority on Windows 2000/2003 Server, AD (Active Directory) and SMS (Systems Management Server), also present at TechEd, expressed the opposing viewpoint that interoperability between Microsoft and open source is possible.

"At the end of the day, both Windows and Linux bring things that are good, and we can all get along," Moskowitz said. "We should look at how we can leverage the strength of each to the benefit of the other."

With regard to where such integration should start, Moskowitz suggested a scenario in which Windows and Linux clients could be authenticated to a Unix NIS (Network Information Service) server. "Active Directory can be made to look like an NIS server, and the reason why you might want to do this is that this would leave the Unix clients basically untouched; they would only need to rebind to the AD/NIS server; and the Unix NIS servers could be recommissioned," he said.

The problem with integration is trying to achieve true single sign-on, which "is really tough, especially as we face dueling authentication systems," Moskowitz said.

Microsoft also used the TechEd show to announce that it has formed an Interoperability Customer Executive Council, designed to identify areas for improved interoperability across not just Microsofts products, but also the broader software industry.

Members will include CIOs and architects from both the corporate and government sectors, with Société Générale; LexisNexis; Kohls Department Stores; the State of Delaware; Denmarks Ministry of Finance; Spains Generalitat de Catalunya and Centro Nacional de Inteligencia already signing up as founding members.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Microsofts newly founded Interoperability Customer Executive Council.

Tom Robertson, Microsofts general manager for interoperability and standards, told eWEEK that the council will focus on the common issues customers face in their heterogeneous environments, and then to look at the concrete steps it can take to resolve these issues.

"We also expect to create working groups tasked with finding concrete solutions to the issues that arise as a result of the council meetings," Robertson said.

The council will also have direct interaction with Microsoft executives and product team members to focus on those interoperability issues that are of greatest importance to customers, including connectivity, application integration and data exchange, he said.

Council founding member Allan McLaughlin, the senior vice president and CTO of LexisNexis, said LexisNexis would depend heavily on the ease, consistency and trust of true secure interoperability of operating system and infrastructure foundation layers.

"We encourage all of our vendors to take the necessary steps … to significantly improve the interoperability of the operating environment foundation," he said.

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