Quiet Progress Marks Microsoft, Sun Anniversary

One year ago, their landmark agreement made headlines. Today, the former foes are inching towards interoperability.

One year after Microsoft and Sun Microsystems buried the hatchet, the two are closer to achieving Web services and networking interoperability.

On April 2, 2004, the two bitter rivals ended their dispute by swapping handshakes and Hockey jerseys. Headlines joked that hell had frozen over, because of the stubborn and outspoken nature of the two chief executives, Steve Ballmer and Scott McNealy. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos then got busy, with more than 24 engineers from the two companies assigned to the task of making sure their customers and partners can use their products at the same time.

"This has been a slow but significant dance," Ben Lenail, the primary Microsoft relationship manager at Sun, told internetnews.com. "We are now defining the landscape and coming up with new things."

The two sides are expected to update their respective development communities during the WinHEC show in Seattle in April and this summer's JavaOne show in San Francisco.

Lenail said teams led by him and his counterparts at Microsoft, Joel Rosenberger and Viden Nedialkov, are using Service Oriented Architectures (SOA) to better match Java Web services with the Windows platform.

The current focus, however, is limited to a handful of projects. Top-of-mind items include WS-Management, WS-Addressing identity work for single sign-on, increasing compatibilities between BizTalk and the Java Integration Framework, and SOAP Message Transmission Optimization Mechanism (MTOM).

"We have our N1 products, but we are using WS-Management as a new way to view the catalogue and look things up and manage them, so you can have a more heterogeneous environment between Windows, Solaris, Unix and Linux," Lenail said.

Chipmaker AMD remains the common denominator between the two former rivals, especially when it comes to x86 64-bit computing. Sun sprung for nearly a million dollars' worth of AMD gear for Microsoft's Enterprise Engineering Center to use in conducting tests and benchmarks.

"Yes, people were completely bewildered, but we are the only x86 64-bit platform in their testing center today," Lenail said.

One topic that is heating up between the two camps is the issue of Microsoft software running on Sun hardware. Lenail said Sun's key message is Solaris on SPARC, but Opteron is providing a unique opportunity to explore heterogeneous virtualization. Lenail said Sun and Microsoft are turning to open source software provider XenSource as the third-party partner of choice.

Burton Group analyst Peter O' Kelly said it may seem a bit dull, but the two companies are doing exactly what they said they'd do.

"They're making it easier for their joint customers to integrate the Microsoft and Sun product lines," O'Kelly said. "I, for one, wasn't expecting more out of the limited detente phase of the Microsoft/Sun relationship."

But Yankee Group senior analyst Dana Gardner said the two sides should be doing more to help the ecosystem since the technology is there; only the leadership, cooperation and intent are missing.

"If we only get some standards agreement on XML in and XML out interoperability, then the decisions on the best core architecture for the distributed computing datacenter and high-scaling services delivery platforms will be about the same was it was five years ago: Unix-based vs. Windows-based. And that is the wrong discussion to be having," Gardner told internetnews.com.

Gardner pointed out that any real integration benefits that Microsoft and Sun may have come up with between J2EE and .NET would have benefited IBM , HP , Oracle , SAP and open source developers more than they would benefit either Microsoft or Sun directly.

"So they may have been doomed from the start," he said.

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