Sun, Microsoft Get Closer

The companies, whose goal is to help Windows and Java work together, have also inked a licensing deal to allow Windows to run on Sun hardware and teamed up to manage Web services (define). Plans to make their service-oriented architecture (SOA) strategies interoperable are also forthcoming, company officials said.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Sun CEO Scott McNealy promised as much during a press event to announce the progress in the companies’ 10-year technical agreement, which began a year ago.

First, Microsoft and Sun have jointly developed the Web single sign-on metadata exchange (Web SSO MEX) protocol and Web single sign-on interoperability profile (Web SSO Interop Profile) specifications.

The rules will trigger browser-based single sign-on between security domains that use Liberty ID-FF and WS-Federation.

Products that support the Web SSO MEX protocol and the Web SSO Interop will enable companies to provide users with improved single sign-on capabilities from their browsers.

The specs, which will likely either be submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) or OASIS, form the basis for how the companies provide identity management between each other’s products.

Microsoft and Sun will support the new specs in Microsoft Windows Server and Sun’s Solaris operating system and Java Enterprise System. The companies’ officials demonstrated how their security software works together, granting users single sign-on access between Windows Server and Solaris.

Time to Get Along

In April 2004, Sun accepted a $1.95 billion settlement to end its legal war with Microsoft. The vendors also pledged to promote interoperability to help customers, including developers, IT managers and end users, meet their goals of making computer systems easier to use.

“A year ago you could say we were moving from the courtroom and entering the computer lab,” Ballmer said, summing up the rivals’ progress. “Twelve months later I think we’re poised, thanks to the work of hundreds of engineers on both sides, to leave the computer lab and enter the market place together.”

McNealy said the developments are the fruit of joint customers who provided a list to both vendors of about 20 separate items, with single sign-on and identity management architecture interoperability as the core issue.

“Everybody’s dealing with (Sarbanes-Oxley, section 404) compliance and trying to reduce complexity and drive security into all parts of their organization, McNealy said.

“The bottom line is that you have Solaris and Windows playing nice in a unique and quite unexpected way across the board. Because the operating system is the boundary system to everything, (Solaris and Windows) are the two critical components.”

McNealy said Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos and Microsoft’s chief software architect are working on how to create greater ties between each company’s SOA (service orientated architecture) plans. Sun currently is working on a project for SOA called Kitty Hawk; Microsoft calls its chief SOA plan Indigo.

Progress Doesn’t Stop with Specs

The agreement extends to new licensing agreements. Ballmer said Microsoft and Sun entertained requests from several customers to create ways for end users to use applications that run on .NET and Sun systems. For example, users may want to use a Sun Ray thin client terminal access applications that run on Solaris and Windows.

Users may now do so through a licensing agreement in which Sun Ray thin-client machines now can access Windows Terminal Services on Windows Server 2003. Users can also now use a Windows Server to tap into Sun’s storage software.

Ballmer said Sun’s recent purchase of Tarantella facilitates that interoperability.

Microsoft and Sun are also working to promote interoperability between their operating systems and management products. The companies are collaborating on the development of the WS-Management Web services specification.

Backed by Microsoft, Intel, Sun and others, the spec helps companies manage hardware devices and software. Sun will implement WS-Management in the Solaris 10 operating system, management service processors in its x64-based Sun Fire servers and Sun N1 management software.

Sun has created an implementation of WS-Management in Java programming language that it plans to release to the open source community. WS-Management will also ship in Windows Server 2003 starting with R2.

Ballmer and other Microsoft officials demonstrated WS-Management between Microsoft software and Sun servers last month.

In another arrangement, the Sun Fire x64 Opteron server and Sun Java Workstation lines are now certified on and compatible with Windows software.

EDS, Accenture and NEC are providing interoperability between Sun and Microsoft products for their customers.

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