Standards struggle in Sun-Microsoft love-in

As Sun Microsystems and Microsoft prepare for an early December unveiling of the first step in their technology collaboration,...

As Sun Microsystems and Microsoft prepare for an early December unveiling of the first step in their technology collaboration, questions are being asked about whether the former foes will address industry standards,  particularly the work being done by the Sun-backed Liberty Alliance consortium.

Sun chief executive Scott McNealy said the companies would announce interoperability between the .Net Active Directory and the Java Enterprise System LDAP directory. 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 the work, Sun's Java System Access Manager and its LDAP-based Java System Directory Server will be integrated with Microsoft's Active Directory services.

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

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, fuelling speculation that Microsoft might also be contemplating membership. Schmelzer said whether Microsoft joined Liberty would "say a lot about the value of the relationship" between the two companies.

Michael Barrett, vice-president of information security at American Express and president of Liberty Alliance, said that with both the WS* and Liberty standards gaining traction in the market, it seemed likely that users would have the headache of managing two separate sets of standards.

"Unless we can make progress on some level of standards harmonisation, 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. "We've got a list as long as your arm of interoperability stuff," said McNealy. "Every six months we're going to do a joint announcement between the two companies."

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

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 Sun vice-president Larry Singer.

"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."

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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