Sun, Microsoft Unveil Fruit of Collaborative Labors

In a landmark move to address customer interoperability needs, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems on Friday unveiled jointly developed specifications to enable Web single sign-on between the company’s competing operating systems.

The new specs, which are the first fruits of a 10-year technical collaboration agreement announced last year, support single sign-on between Microsoft’s Windows and Sun’s Solaris and Java Enterprise System.

“Over the past year we have worked to establish great communication at all levels between our companies, from regular executive meetings to in-depth working sessions with our engineers,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. “In the first year, we’ve moved from the courtroom to the computer lab. Now we’re moving from the lab to the market.”

“Sun and Microsoft are working together … and quite well at that,” said Sun CEO Scott McNealy. “A year ago, the skeptics doubted that we could agree on the shape of the table, much less collaborate on solving some of the industry’s toughest problems.”

McNealy said this is just the beginning of a long list of projects on which members of the once heated rivalry are collaborating.

Single Sign-On

The companies have jointly developed and published two draft specifications: Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange (Web SSO MEX) Protocol and Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile (Web SSO Interop Profile).

These new specifications enable browser-based Web SSO between security domains that use Liberty ID-FF and WS-Federation. Products that support the Web SSO MEX Protocol and the Web SSO Interop Profile will enable companies to provide users with an improved Web SSO experience from their Web browsers.

As part of the companies’ ongoing commitment to improving interoperability across their respective product lines, Microsoft and Sun also announced plans to support the new specifications within their product portfolios, including Microsoft Windows Server and Sun Java Enterprise System.

Liberty Participation

Steve O’Grady of research firm Red Monk told TechNewsWorld that this is undoubtedly a significant announcement for customers that have made major investments in both vendors’ software. “It’s not just a handshake and a smile,” he said. “We are seeing some definite progress.”

But O’Grady said the better solution would be for Microsoft to join the Liberty Alliance Project, a consortium of more than 150 companies, non-profits and government organizations committed to developing an open standard for federated network identity that supports all current and emerging network devices.

“From a single sign-on perspective, if Microsoft was part of the Liberty Alliance, then the situation would be a lot different. This particular announcement would be a lot less important,” O’Grady said. “So I’m more inclined to say that Microsoft joining the Liberty Alliance would be a much better move all around.”

Next Step: WS-Management Specification

The companies are also collaborating on the development of the WS-Management a Web services specification, co-authored by Microsoft, Intel, Sun and other vendors, that defines a single protocol to meet management requirements spanning hardware devices, operating systems and applications.

Sun will implement WS-Management in the Solaris 10 Operating System, management service processors in its x64-based Sun Fire servers and the Sun N1 management software tools, to provide full systems management interoperability across Solaris and Windows environments.

In addition, Sun has created an implementation of WS-Management in Java programming language that it plans to release to the open source community. WS-Management also is a key component of the Microsoft Dynamic Systems Initiative and will ship as a standard part of Windows Server 2003 starting with R2.

How soon will we see another announcement? “Judging from the time it took to put this together I don’t expect anything new to occur overnight,” O’Grady said. “I don’t expect the efforts to be easy or quick, but certainly I think Sun and Microsoft will continue to try to work together.”

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