Microsoft, Sun claim progress on interoperability deal

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems said Wednesday that they're pleased with the progress they have made in the early stages of the 10-year alliance they forged in April. But major pronouncements by the two vendors at the eight-month mark were missing during a conference call Wednesday in which officials discussed their plans.

Executives for the two companies cited joint technical work they are doing to enable their products to interoperate, with areas of focus including Web services standards, browser authentication, Sun storage support for Windows Server and the optimization of Windows for Sun hardware.

But many of the cooperative efforts the vendors touted during their first progress report were of an ongoing, long-term nature.

"In terms of real progress, you'd have to search hard to find anything. I didn't really hear anything meaningful at all," said Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group in San Jose. He added that the two companies may never have intended to cooperate much beyond their initial agreement, which allowed Sun to get a much-needed cash infusion and Microsoft to free itself from litigation with a nearly US$2 billion settlement.

Hank Vigil, vice president of consumer strategy and partnerships at Microsoft, objected to characterizing the work the vendors are doing as modest in scope. "If you think about the history between Sun and Microsoft, it was quite a contentious history, where our ability to even talk to each other was not at all clear," Vigil said. "I think that the eight months has proven not only are we crawling well, but we're learning how to walk, and someday we expect to run together."

Greg Papadopoulos, chief technology officer at Sun, referred to the change in the nature of the vendors' relationship as a "180-degree U-turn. Nine months ago, we were slashing each other's tires. Now we're helping each other fix each other's flats."

The one-time rivals have held 15 executive meetings in the past five months, including sessions involving Papadopoulos and Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, and between Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Sun CEO Scott McNealy. Two dozen engineers are also meeting face-to-face on a monthly basis to discuss technical issues, according to Andrew Layman, director of distributed systems and interoperability at Microsoft.

Papadopoulos noted that he and Gates met with a number of major customers, who helped the companies get their priorities straight in the relationship. Customers cited security, identity, Java and better interoperability through Web services as issues that are important to them.

Sun and Microsoft also have formed an advisory council of chief technology officers, according to Papadopoulos, and the two vendors are working to establish a competency center in Redmond, Wash., where customers can do "real-world testing" of applications in a heterogeneous environment.

The companies' focus on Web services during the past six months has resulted in the co-authoring of specifications for eventing, exchanging metadata, managing Web services and the addressing of messages so they can get from a service running on one computer to a service on another, Layman said.

"Web services is the way that both of our companies are looking to make this the future architecture for having our products interoperate," Layman said.

Sun's Opteron-based servers and workstations have been certified by Microsoft's Windows Hardware Quality Labs as "designed for Windows." Papadopoulos also noted that Sun gets to take advantage of the enhanced virus protection in Advanced Micro Devices's Opteron chips used under Windows XP Service Pack 2.

On the storage front, the two vendors have worked on driver compatibility, and Sun has worked to support Microsoft's Virtual Disk Service and Volume Copy Shadow Services on its StorEdge 6920 storage arrays, according to Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos said Sun just received VeriTest certification for its Sun Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition and its Java System Identity Manager running on Windows Server. Sun is now working to validate Access Manager and Identity Manager functionality for its customers that use its Microsoft's Active Directory for user credentials.

"A lot of this stuff came out of our direct customer feedback that put identity at the top of the list of things that we should be working on," Papadopoulos said.

Java support also is an important issue for many customers, and Layman reiterated Microsoft's earlier statements that it won't be issuing new versions of the Java Virtual Machine, software technology that is necessary for Java to run on a computer.

"Sun provides a JVM that runs well on Windows, and we think that's a great choice for customers," Layman said.

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