Update: Microsoft-Sun Pact, One Year Later

It's been just over a year since tech giants Microsoft and Sun Microsystems buried the hatchet in their extended feud over Java. Fast-forward to today, where the Ballmer/McNealy relationship seems to flow naturally, and the first payoff is all interoperability.

It's been just over a year since tech giants Microsoft and Sun Microsystems buried the hatchet in their extended feud over Java. That day last April, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his counterpart, Sun CEO Scott McNealy, once bitter foes, joked amiably, if not sometimes awkwardly.

Fast-forward to today. As surreal as it seemed at the time, the Ballmer/McNealy relationship seems to flow naturally. Framing their firms as the two leading IT platforms in the enterprise, the two execs convened in the San Francisco Bay Area last month to unveil the first fruits of the 10-year joint technology partnership they announced last year. And it's all about interoperability. "We have been hard at work for a year," says Ballmer, who joked that the first few months of joint engineering unfolded in a culture clash similar to the East/West contrast after the Berlin Wall fell.

Specifically, the companies are aiming to make Sun Solaris/ Java and Windows/.Net environments work together more easily, including the ability to manage the two systems from a single console. One of the new interoperability measures is the development of identity-based specifications to enable Web single sign-on (SSO) that bridges the Sun-oriented Liberty Alliance Web services architecture and WS-* Web services framework supported by Microsoft. (The asterisk stands for various specs, such as WS-Management and WS-Security.)

It is an important gap to close from a customer perspective, McNealy says. "There are two clear survivors in the OS marketplace that run on x86 systems. And that's Solaris and Windows," he says. "And because the OS is the boundary to everything, because it touches everything, the two should complement each other."

For customers, who typically operate mixed environments, the initiative eliminates an integration pain point between environments, and cuts down on the number of passwords that users must juggle to log into applications. Meanwhile, integrators and developers benefit similarly, their own development projects made easier because they can mix and match the .Net and Java platforms, depending on preference, according to McNealy.

Think of it this way: A company has an accounting application built and running on top of Sun's J2EE and Solaris environment. It wants to create a new front end to the application written in .Net and running on Windows. These tasks will no longer be mutually exclusive. Or another example: You need to log into one app running on Sun and one running on Windows; now you can use the same password.

Several major systems integrators at the event supported the initiative, including Accenture, EDS and NEC Solutions of America. General Motors represented a joint customer that is doing a proof-of-concept with Microsoft and Sun to make separate applications in the auto-maker's environment work together seamlessly.

And with the same bite he used in past years to skewer Microsoft, McNealy lambasted Big Blue. As one example, both he and Ballmer pushed the point that users want to move off legacy mainframe systems, and that the best platforms to choose are either Microsoft's or Sun's.

Both executives took pains to assure that they are still competitors in the marketplace. Their respective products are not being merged or integrated, but simply made more amenable to working together. Looking ahead, Ballmer said the next 12 months will also involve a lot of rolling up of sleeves between the two companies. More work on interoperability, as well as security and storage, is in the offing.

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