Microsoft and Sun Join on Single Sign-on Specs

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are collaborating to enhance interoperability between .NET- and Java-based technologies.

The two companies have been working in concert to develop specifications to enable browser-based Web single sign-on among systems that use the Sun-supported Liberty ID-FF protocol and the Microsoft-supported WS-Federation. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Sun CEO Scott McNealy appeared together at a press conference and disclosed that their companies have jointly developed and published two draft specs: the Web Single Sign-On Metadata Exchange Protocol and the Web Single Sign-On Interoperability Profile.

"A year ago, you could say we were emerging from the courtroom and going into the computer lab," Ballmer said. "We are positioned to leave the computer lab now and enter the marketplace."

The once bitter rivals have been cooperating since last April, when they settled a years-long legal dispute. Sun had charged Microsoft with anti-competitive behavior after Microsoft rewrote elements of Java specific to the Windows operating system. Microsoft later said that it would remove Java entirely from the OS.

The settlement, in which Microsoft agreed to pay $2 billion to Sun and the two companies established a 10-year agreement to make their different software systems more compatible, stunned the industry.

McNealy himself still seemed to be getting used to the idea. "Who would have thought that Microsoft would be a sponsor of our JavaOne conference?" he said, referring to Sun's annual trade show.

The press conference wasn't exactly a lovefest, but there were no references to Microsoft's "hairball" technology from McNealy, nor any comments about McNealy's "yap-yap-yapping" from Ballmer. The two chief execs sat shoulder to shoulder on a stage in a hotel conference room in downtown Palo Alto, Calif., during product demos. At one point, they introduced representatives from four customer companies--General Motors, EDS, NEC Solutions America and Accenture--all of which currently use both Sun and Microsoft products. Each company rep offered hearty endorsement of any plans that might produce true interoperability between the two.

“The thing that has been difficult for the large enterprise and government customers,” says Jean Bozman, IDC research director, “is that Unix servers and Windows servers are co-installed to the point where Windows is present in at least 80 percent of these environments. That’s what our surveys have found. And of course, enterprise IT has embraced Java from the beginning, so it’s everywhere. Name a server vendor, and it’ll have some level of Java support.”

The proliferation of Web services is raising the demand for interoperable systems, Bozman says, which makes interoperability an issue that goes beyond Sun and Microsoft. “It’s not just about two vendors,” Bozman says. “It’s about bringing two ecosystems together.”

Both chief execs acknowledged the announcement is the first step in a long process. Next month, the companies are expected to begin a joint project aimed at making it easier for programmers to write software that communicates between .NET and Java.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].