Microsoft launches interoperability group

Microsoft has created the Interop Vendor Alliance which will focus on promoting interoperability with Microsoft software

Reiterating that it wants to play better with others, Microsoft has started a group to promote software interoperability. Twenty-five companies, including Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, XenSource and Novell, have agreed to join the Interop Vendor Alliance announced Tuesday at Microsoft's IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

The alliance will focus on promoting interoperability with Microsoft software in areas such as systems management, virtualization, identity management, data access, multiple portal connections through Web services-based single sign-ons and developer tools, according to Jason Matusow, senior director for interoperability at Microsoft.

"We want to create a forum that creates an environment for getting things done," Matusow said. Vendors that join the group can still decline to make their products work with another member's if they believe it is in their business interest. "Just because one member holds out his hand to shake doesn't mean the other one has to take it," he said.

Scott Williamson, a strategic alliance manager at CA, a founding member of the new group, said it is often "tricky" to set up technical alliances with companies, especially ones with large product lines that compete with CA in other areas. He hopes the alliance will be able to ease the process of creating politically sensitive collaborations.

Other founding alliance members include Advanced Micro Devices, Business Objects, Citrix Systems, NEC Corporation of America, Network Appliance, Quest Software and Software.

Notable holdouts include enterprise software competitors to Microsoft such as Oracle and Red Hat; firms that dominate areas Microsoft wants to get into, such as Google in Web 2.0 services and VMware in virtualization; and big companies that both compete and cooperate with Microsoft, such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

An Oracle spokeswoman declined to comment; IBM officials did not return a request for comment.

Through a spokeswoman, Microsoft said it is in "conversations" with some of those companies about joining the alliance, and they are "still evaluating the opportunity."

In continuing to break down the proprietary walls that have long defined its software marketing tactics, Microsoft is responding to customers, who deem interoperability to be just as important as security and reliability, Matusow said. "Standards are important, but standards alone don't make things interoperable. And after-the-fact plug-ins are not satisfactory. We want to push scenario-based testing of actual shipping products."

This is Microsoft's second pro-interoperability announcement in two weeks, and one of many alliances the company has struck with open-source and Linux vendors in the past year. On Nov. 2, Microsoft and Novell agreed to make the Windows and SUSE Linux server platforms work better together. Microsoft also agreed to pay Novell US$440 million over five years for, among other things, the right to market and sell SUSE Linux to its customers.

The alliance is not a prelude to Microsoft drastically increasing the number of its applications that run on non-Windows platforms, such as Unix or Linux, Matusow said. Neither is the company amping down its own marketing efforts.

Rob Helm, an analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft, believes Microsoft's intentions are sincere, if only in part because it faces market pressure "to be regarded as a good citizen in the data center."

"Microsoft has picked on some areas like identity management and systems management where it is stuck in a multivendor world and could potentially be squeezed out of the data center," he said.

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