PARIS – In part to answer demand from business and government customers, Microsoft plans to introduce a technology industry alliance on Tuesday to make software from competing companies work better together, company executives said.
Bob Muglia, the Microsoft senior vice president who has led the U.S. company’s interoperability efforts for the past year, will announce details of the alliance in Barcelona at an event for European software developers.
The move is Microsoft’s latest effort to change from a company that has insisted on the advantages of its own products into a company that can adapt when customers use other solutions.
Early this month, for instance, Microsoft struck a deal with Novell, a longtime rival, to ensure that Novell’s version of the Linux operating system could operate with Windows in corporate data centers.
The new Interop Vendor Alliance, which is financed by Microsoft and opens with 22 corporate members, will work publicly and privately to share information to solve common problems faced by customers and test real-world scenarios.
One example, company executives said, would be the not-so-simple task of letting a company’s employees sign on to multiple software programs with a single user name and password, rather than using separate log-ons for each application.
But in Europe, “interoperability” is a bit of a loaded word when it comes to Microsoft. The inability of Microsoft’s main operating system, Windows, to work well with rivals’ products was at the heart of the European Commission’s antitrust case that resulted in a record fine against the U.S. company in 2004. The commission found that by withholding vital information about Windows, the company deliberately restricted interoperability between personal computers using Windows and computer servers running software from Microsoft’s rivals.
“That was a specific set of documentation,” Muglia said during an interview. “This is much, much broader than what has been mandated by the European Commission. This is about the long term.”
Bill Hilf, general manager of platform strategy at Microsoft, said business customers were telling the company that interoperability was as important to them as security and reliability. The market reality is that corporate and government technology managers are not buying from a single company, whether it is software to manage customer information or employee benefits or other warehouses of data. But they still need to share information among systems.
Siemens, NEC, Business Objects, Software AG, Novell and Sun Microsystems are among the alliance’s members. Membership is open to Microsoft partners, technology licensees or “platform vendors,” the company said.
Jason Matusow, general manager of standards at Microsoft, said the companies would follow traditional rules governing the sharing of intellectual property. “There will be no sharing of the secret sauce,” he said, referring to proprietary source code.
Matusow said that Microsoft engineers were infusing its products from the ground up with tools that would increase their ability to work seamlessly. Vista, for example, “has built in a massive amount of interoperability elements at a very deep technical layer,” he said about the newest version of Windows, due out this month.
Brian Stevens, chief technology officer of Red Hat, the leading seller of Linux products, said Microsoft was to be commended for “moving in the right direction since the judgments” against it in various countries. But Stevens cautioned that it was not clear what would come out of Microsoft’s interoperability agreements.
“There’s so much lack of trust with Microsoft,” he said. “We’re really looking for these agreements to be bi-directional, based on open standards. They’re a lot closer, but there needs to be more.”
While Muglia is implementing the strategy across product groups, the vision of Microsoft as a company that works well with others comes from Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer, and Brad Smith, general counsel, Matusow said.
“The discussion of interoperability clearly has been on the lips of people within a legal context,” he said. “Things in the legal arena absolutely have an implication for interoperability, but it is not the only thing.”
Fuente: International Herald Tribune, Victoria Shannon