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Messaging is likely cooperation turf for Sun, MS

A Sun Microsystems executive says messaging, identity management and Web services are among the technologies that his company is likely to work out interoperability issues with Microsoft.

Although Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft offered few details about how their products would be affected by their recent $1.95 billion, 10-year agreement and settlement, one technology earmarked for interoperability discussions is messaging.

John Fowler, a Sun vice president and chief technical officer for the Sun Software unit, said that it is too soon to say whether the companies will jointly develop a software product, but communications and collaboration are on top of their list for technology swapping, alongside identity management and Web services.

Today, the Sun Java System Messaging Server is used mainly by service providers and does not have the type of rich collaboration features that are used in an enterprise.

When they really get into it, they will find that interoperability is a tough slog.
Jonathan Eunice, Illuminata,
The server supports the messaging protocols Post Office Protocol ( POP) and Internet Message Access Protocol ( IMAP), as opposed to being a full Messaging Access Program Interface ( MAPI) server, which Exchange is. Microsoft uses MAPI for Outlook to send and receive messages to an Exchange account.

The client-server bond

Microsoft's Exchange has a tight relationship to the Outlook client, and Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun should emulate that model so users can have access to better calendaring, folders and other high-end services that come with a full Exchange and Outlook pairing, said Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston.

On the other hand, Sun's messaging server is designed for ISPs, which is not the type of scaling that Exchange was designed for. "You've got a little chocolate and a little peanut butter in one sense," Gardner said. "Sun would like a better client experience than Web mail or a POP client. Microsoft could do better in terms of driving e-mail products into service providers and telcos."

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Others say several open source technologies closely connected to Sun are more likely to benefit from the new relationship with Microsoft than the Sun mail server. Jonathan Eunice, president of Illuminata, a Nashua, N.H., consulting firm, cites OpenOffice -- and a project within OpenOffice that gives it more Exchange-like calendar and groupware functions. There is also the Mozilla browser, which is continually improving, as well as Novell Inc.'s Evolution, technology that came in the acquisition of Ximian Inc.

Sun does not have many intellectual property assets related to e-mail, but it does have open source credentials. By working closely with Sun, Microsoft can position Exchange as a more open and interoperable groupware server, Eunice said.

Common ground in identity management

User identity management may be a richer area to watch, particularly if both companies cooperate so that user data can interoperate without trouble between Active Directory and Sun's Java Identity Server.

Fowler said the main thing the agreement with Microsoft should do is remove any doubt from a Sun customer's mind that a Sun product might not interoperate with a Microsoft product. But other than getting some piece of mind, there is the question as to whether serious collaboration is just a theory that makes the deal with Microsoft look more attractive.

"When they really get into it, they will find that interoperability is a tough slog," Eunice said. "It has to be done a piece at a time. It's not something a single agreement can handle.

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