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Microsoft Faces Skeptics at Open Source Conference

Nearly a year and a half after striking their improbable alliance to provide better interoperability between open source and Windows-based platforms, Microsoft and Novell told developers this week that the pact has yielded technical benefits but there's still work to be completed, particularly on the interoperability between the two companies' enterprise directory platforms.

Representatives of both companies provided a status report of their collaboration at the annual Linux/Open Source on Wall Street conference held in New York this week. Microsoft says it has sold more than 100,000 SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) licenses to about 60 large enterprise customers, among them Credit Suisse, HSBC, Synovus Financial Corp. and Wal-Mart.

"We've learned a lot," said Peter Rodriques, Microsoft's director of customer advocacy and licensing, during his opening remarks. "For the most part, it's been incredibly successful in terms of feedback in the business community and technical communities."

In an interview, Rodriques added that Microsoft's pact with Novell helped set the stage for Redmond's interoperability pledge, made in February.

Virtual Progress
Microsoft and Novell have identified four key goals in their technical collaboration agreement (TCA). To date, the companies have made the most progress in ensuring both platforms work in virtualized environments so that Windows Server is recognized on an SLES host and vice versa, said Jose Thomas, a senior technical evangelist at Microsoft. The other three areas of focus include common systems management, interoperability of Microsoft's Active Directory with Novell's eDirectory, and document format compatibility.

Thomas demonstrated SLES running as a virtual machine on a Windows Server 2008 host and underscored that the same interoperability works in the reverse scenario. The goal, according to Thomas, was for Windows to run as a "fully enlightened" guest on SLES and vice versa. The demo used a beta version of Microsoft's much-anticipated Hyper-V hypervisor.

"The hypervisor treats the SuSE operating system just like it treats Windows, which is great because from a performance perspective, you're at par," Thomas said. "But on top of that, from a management perspective, from a reporting capability, all of the things that the hypervisor is doing from Windows, you can go ahead and do for SuSE, as well."

The two companies jointly developed adaptors to achieve that result, Thomas added. To address systems management, however, the two companies for now are focusing more on the Web services standard WS-Management protocol.

"It's just about talking a common language," Thomas said.

The same is true for directory compatibility, with the WS-Federated spec. The companies are still working on the underpinnings of allowing their directories to determine trusted relationships -- that is, the exchange of tokens.

"This piece is still yet to be completed," Thomas said. "It's been defined, but we are actively working on that."

On the document interchangeability side, Microsoft and Novell said files are interchangeable through their support for standards, notably Microsoft's Office Open XML specification, which just this week was approved as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). While the office suites will be able to share key formatting attributes, functions such as Visual Basic-based macros won't work across platforms, admitted Thomas.

"I'll be quite honest, I'm not going to sit here and tell you everything is going to carry over," he said.

Open Enough?
Microsoft was addressing an open source conference, with many skeptics in attendance.

"I like the fact that Microsoft is cooperating with the Linux community, but for me, it's about the openness in the standards -- if you are going to collaborate and keep it closed, then it really wouldn't benefit us," one audience member said.

"We're a company that happens to value patents," said Rodriques. "We can have that debate and I absolutely respect that today. But what we're trying to do is figure out, how do we open up our APIs? How do we open up our protocols with the open source community, use it where it makes sense, and that's the next wave as we move this relationship."

Thomas added in an interview that the challenge is in coming up with a happy medium.

"I think we have the right intent, but at the end of the day we still have to make sure that both worlds can meet in the middle," he said. "We're an intellectual property-based software company; we want to work with that open community where it makes sense."

Paul Brown, director of global strategic marketing at Novell, said in an interview after the session that he wasn't surprised by the skepticism but he is encouraged by Microsoft's latest moves.

"You have to give them credit," Brown said, noting Microsoft's recent interoperability pledge and the release of its APIs. "They really have opened it up."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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