Microsoft, Sun Tout Progress on Sign-On, Management, Thin-Client Interop

As they did on April 2, 2004, Sun Chairman Scott McNealy and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage together at a press conference, this time in Palo Alto, Calif., to unveil the interoperability work accomplished so far to ensure key elements of their companies' technology portfolios are compatible.

"A year ago we could say we were emerging from the courtroom and entering the computer lab," Ballmer said. "Twelve months later we're poised to leave the computer lab and really enter the marketplace together."

Despite the good intentions and amicable spirit shown at last April's press conference announcing the partnership--a move that stunned the industry--McNealy admitted that the collaboration in the lab was not always smooth going.

"It wasn't all easy," McNealy admitted. "There were times over the last year when it felt likecentrifugal force and antibodies would make this thing not happen."

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Now, however, the two companies are seeing real progress in the work they've been doing, including offering interoperability in storage technologies and plans to allow their respective directory and authentication services to serve both .NET and Java applications in the near future, he added. Microsoft is even a "major sponsor" of next month's JavaOne conference, Sun's conference for Java developers, a move that would've been unheard of before last April. "Who'd have ever thunk that Microsoft would be a sponsor of JavaOne?" McNealy said.

Friday's progress report included the introduction and demonstration of highly-anticipated work around enabling single sign-on between Microsoft's .NET platform and Sun systems built on Java.

The two companies said they have jointly developed and published two draft specifications, Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange Protocol and Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile, that enable browser-based Web single sign-on between security domains that use Liberty ID-FF and WS-Federation. Liberty is the protocol Sun supports for single sign-on, whereas Microsoft technologies use WS-Federation.

Microsoft and Sun pledged to support those protocols in future but unspecified versions of Windows and Solaris.

The companies also announced plans for implementing the WS-Management specification, co-authored by Sun, Microsoft, Intel and others. This spec defines a single protocol to meet management requirements that span hardware devices, operating systems and applications.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the two companies are cooperating to ensure that Sun's N1 and Microsoft management platform support both .NET and Java applications from a single console.

Sun plans to implement WS-Management in Solaris 10, while Microsoft will include the specification as part of its Dynamic Systems Initiative and it will ship as a standard part of Windows Server 2003, starting with Release 2 of the server. R2 was recently released into beta testing and is planend to ship by the end of the year.

Additionally, Sun has licensed Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol and will implement it in its Sun Ray thin clients. RDP allows Sun Ray users to access Windows Terminal Services running on Windows Server 2003, thus enabling users to remotely access and display Windows applications from a Sun Ray machine.

Ballmer said Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos and Microsoft Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will go back into the lab and start architecting web service interoperability. Customers also expresed interest in the two companies making their messaging systems interoperable, the Sun CEO said.

Both McNealy and Ballmer stressed that the work the two companies are doing is in line with customer demand. When the interoperability work began, the two companies set up an advisory council of 10 large enterprise customers to help outline the work that needs to be done to make Microsoft and Sun systems interoperable in real-world scenarios.

"We have tried to keep this as a customer-focused partnership," McNealy said. "Rather than Sun and Microsoft [working together], what you're seeing is Solaris and Windows bringing their ecosystems together while we can still compete and give the customer choice."

Still, though it seems the work between the companies is moving along, McNealy has not given up all of the anti-Microsoft sentiment that provided such colorful sound bites since the two companies' feud began 1997, when Sun first brought a suit against Microsoft over Java licensing.

In an internal memo sent to employees several weeks ago and viewed by CRN, McNealy mandated that unless they are specifically working on the Sun-Microsoft interoperability project, employees should not be running Windows on laptops given to them by Sun.

"Unless you're working on Microsoft interoperability issues, there really isn't any reason you should be running Windows on your laptop," McNealy wrote in the memo. "Instead, there is every reason you should have that laptop humming on our Java Desktop System, which can operate over both Linux and Solaris. This is a product we are pitching and selling to customers, and it must be a product every Sun employee with a laptop is running."