Sun-Microsoft work might leave standards rift

Sun-Microsoft work might leave standards rift

As Sun Microsystems and Microsoft ready an early December unveiling of the first step in their highly publicized technology collaboration, industry observers are questioning whether the former foes will fail to address industry standards, particularly the work being done by the Sun-backed Liberty Alliance consortium.

The companies will announce interoperability between the .Net Active Directory and the Java Enterprise System LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) directory, said Sun CEO Scott McNealy, speaking at a recent conference in Virginia. Integrating the directories, which will keep track of user names, profiles and password information, will result in single sign-on for users of both companies' applications. As part of this work, the companies will integrate Sun's Java System Access Manager and its LDAP-based Java System Directory Server with Microsoft's Active Directory services.

Better integrated Sun and Microsoft products may make life easier for some customers, but the larger issue is whether or not the two vendors will collaborate on standards as well. "The real question is whether or not Microsoft is going to join Liberty Alliance," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink.

Founded in 2001, Liberty Alliance is a 150-member consortium that is developing standards to exchange user identity information between different systems. IBM, which is working with Microsoft on a similar family of specifications, called WS*, recently joined Liberty, fueling speculation that Microsoft might also be contemplating membership.

Whether or not Sun, with its newly amicable relationship with Microsoft, is able to convince the Redmond, Washington, software company to join Liberty will "say a lot about the value of the relationship" between the two companies, Schmelzer said.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler declined to comment on Liberty and on the specifics of the December event, which he characterized as an "opportunity to provide information on several specific areas where the companies are working together."

With both the WS* and Liberty standards gaining traction in the marketplace, it seems likely that users will have to deal with the headache of managing two separate sets of standards, said Michael Barrett, vice president of information security & privacy strategy at American Express Co. and president of Liberty Alliance. "Unless we can make progress on some level of standards harmonization, people are just going to be forced to muddle along," he said. "It's not pretty, but it kind of is where we are."

The collaboration will also cover areas such as the two companies' office productivity suites, Java and .Net, client and server software, McNealy said. "We've got a list as long as your arm of interoperability stuff. Every six months we're going to do a joint announcement between the two companies," he said.

A working demonstration of the interoperable products is expected in January, with shipping products expected later in the year, a Sun spokeswoman said.

Sun had initially planned to announce the results of its collaboration by the end of September, but delayed the event because of scheduling reasons, said Larry Singer, vice president with Sun's Global Information Systems Strategy Office, in an interview. "The reason for the delay has nothing to do with technology," he said. "It has to do with getting the two cultures together on how to do announcements."

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