The first phase of the partnership will be to "solve single sign-on" and facilitate interoperability between the LDAP model of the directory and identity management products in Sun's Java Enterprise System and Microsoft ActiveDirectory, McNealy told attendees in his morning keynote at Sun's annual Java developer confab in San Francisco.
Once Sun and Microsoft make their software interoperable, "users can log into the network once without having to remember multiple passwords and have their authentication travel across software infrastructure from both Sun and Microsoft," McNealy said.
Applications that run on both systems also can take advantage of the same infrastructure for network identity. "This should make for more efficient consumer and enterprise use," he said.
Enabling single sign-on for users across multiple Web sites, particularly for e-commerce users, has been a tricky issue. Sun and a group of partner companies initiated and supported the Liberty Alliance, which leverages the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) specification to enable single sign-on, while Microsoft for a time planned its own project, HailStorm, to collect user information and authenticate users across multiple sites. But users were uncomfortable with the idea of Microsoft owning all of their personal information, so HailStorm didn't fly as expected.
The lack of consensus from vendors on how to build a standard infrastructure for single sign-on created an environment where too many companies have unlimited access to user information, since users must give away their personal and credit-card information every time they do business on different Web sites, said James Governor, principal analyst at technology think tank RedMonk. "Now it's chaos, which had led to huge problems like identity theft and phishing and spam," he said.
If Microsoft and Sun can come up with a way to bridge .Net and Java-based infrastructure and allow single sign-on for users across the Web--no matter which platform is running on the back end--it may solve some of those problems, Governor said. "Anything that makes it easier for users is going to be very much appreciated," he said. "Lots and lots of end-user companies are really struggling with this federated identity problem."
One solution to this problem also "opens up a lot of interesting business model propositions," particularly for the channel, Governor added. "If Sun and Microsoft can reach a rapprochement, it's going to benefit all kinds of business and could create new reseller opportunities, because you can manage services across all of these environments," he said.
Once Phase One of Sun and Microsoft's 10-year technology interoperability agreement is complete, McNealy said the companies would move on to Phase Two, which would be to integrate Web services built using both Java and .Net platforms.
In his keynote, McNealy also invited Microsoft and Linux vendor Red Hat to join the Java Community Process (JCP), the group of vendors that creates and finalizes Java standards. McNealy characterized Microsoft as a company "that has a lot to contribute" to the evolution of Java, while "Red Hat should just show up" to JCP meetings.
The outspoken CEO said the participation of Red Hat, the primary Linux vendor in North America, and Microsoft--the owner of the .Net development community, the largest rival to the more than 4 million Java developers--would benefit Java, .Net and Linux development. "I do say that in all seriousness, I think the community and the planet and the investment you are all making could be leveraged if the two of them would support where we are heading," McNealy said.
After years of animosity, Sun and Microsoft in early April signed a 10-year pact to collaborate on technology interoperability. Microsoft also paid Sun $2.4 billion to settle the companies' pending lawsuits over Java licensing.