REDMOND, Wash., – March 19, 2009 – Businesses everywhere are dealing with the challenges of economic uncertainty and financial pressures, alongside higher customer expectations. In a world of change, businesses must adapt, be able to innovate, and find new ways of doing business. Technology creates opportunities for businesses to innovate. As such, many companies have assembled a diverse mix of applications and technologies from a variety of vendors. Because mixed IT environments are so pervasive, customers are demanding – now more than ever – that software vendors do a better job of making their products work together.
Helping lead Microsoft’s interoperability work are general managers Craig Shank and Jean Paoli. Shank manages the Interoperability Group, spearheading public policy and legal affairs relating to interoperability and standards, including implementation of Microsoft’s Interoperability Principles. Paoli is one of the creators of the XML 1.0 standard with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and manages the Interoperability Strategy Group, coordinating with product teams across Microsoft on interoperability customer scenarios and product strategy. Together, they help drive Microsoft’s holistic approach to interoperability.
PressPass spoke with Shank and Paoli to learn more about the interoperability work that is taking place at Microsoft and across the technology industry.
PressPass: It’s been a while since we’ve heard from the interoperability team at Microsoft. Why are you speaking out now?
Shank: This is a time of change. Increasing globalization, rising Internet use, and higher consumer and business expectations are driving increased demand for technology choice and flexibility. Governments and businesses alike have assembled a diverse mix of applications and technologies from a variety of vendors. In this environment, technology can present new opportunities and deliver new solutions. Key to that is helping organizations make the most of their mixed IT environments.
As our company has evolved and more people have started using our products and enjoying the benefits that come with their universality, we have seen how customers can benefit from greater interoperability and choice in the market. To ensure that the universal nature of Microsoft’s products helps our customers rather than stands in their way, we’re working to increase openness through greater access to our products and more collaboration with others. This is more important today than ever.
Paoli: We would like to communicate and demonstrate Microsoft’s commitment to interoperability. Craig and I help lead a broad, cross-company interoperability effort, with the goal of meeting our customers’ needs for operating mixed IT environments. This includes a number of elements: how we build and license our high-volume products, the technology bridges we create to connect our products with others, our perspectives on critical issues to foster greater interoperability across the IT ecosystem, and our participation in the IT standards system.
PressPass: What are the business and economic benefits of increased interoperability?
Shank: Promoting interoperability helps reduce costs and increase efficiency. As an example, calculations by researchers at Harvard University suggest that standardizing healthcare information exchange and interoperability could save the U.S. healthcare industry approximately $78 billion per year. We also believe that interoperability fosters innovation, giving more companies access to widely used platforms and providing them with a way to build solutions and services on top of them. So, between efficiency and innovation, interoperability can have a significant economic impact.
PressPass: What is Microsoft doing, exactly, to promote interoperability?
Shank: Microsoft’s interoperability efforts are driven through the lens of customer needs and encompass four key elements: collaboration, access, standards and products. Since interoperability is an industrywide challenge, collaboration is critical.
One forum where this takes place is in the Interoperability Executive Customer (IEC) Council, which consists of more than 35 CIOs and CTOs from governments and leading corporations around the world. The IEC Council helps Microsoft identify and solve the top challenges facing customers today. Working with them, we’re actively resolving issues in the areas of systems management, security and identity management, as well as office productivity and collaboration tools.
A real-world example of our collaboration with customers to enable interoperability is our work with the Portuguese government’s Agency for the Modernization of the Public Administration. This organization used Microsoft technologies to create an interoperability framework to connect and provide a single sign-on to diverse legacy systems running Linux, AIX, HP/UX and Windows. The new Citizen Card, cartão de cidadão, replaces five existing cards for identity, taxpayer, social security, healthcare and voter verification, and will reduce information processing time, lower the cost of government services and enhance citizen data security.
Paoli: We also collaborate with our competitors — EMC, Novell, SAP and Sun, for example— to help solve the interoperability challenges of our mutual customers. Take Novell, for example. Microsoft worked with Novell to enable Moonlight, an open source implementation of Silverlight for the Linux operating system. Moonlight gives Linux-based users access to Web experiences that incorporate video, animation, interactivity and stunning user interfaces. It will be provided as an open source plug-in for the Firefox Web browser. In fact, an early version of Moonlight was used in January to stream President Obama’s inauguration ceremony.
A third area of collaboration is with all types of developers and partners, such as the work we do within the Document Interoperability Initiative (DII) to bring new tools and solutions to market that make it easier to use and exchange documents in different formats. One such solution is the OpenXML Document Viewer. With this, you can download a plug-in and view OpenXML documents within the Firefox browser on either Windows or Linux platforms, without installing Microsoft Office or other productivity products.
Our collaboration with developers also includes working with those in open source communities, such as leading engineers from open source projects Samba, Apache and Mozilla. During the past year Microsoft has sponsored the Apache Software Foundation, made contributions to the PHPCommunity and participated in several Apache projects, including Hadoop and Qpid. In addition, Microsoft engineers have contributed to more than 300 open source projects, including WiX, Stonehenge and Web Sandbox. We have also invested in systems to support open source development, such as CodePlex and Snakebite.
PressPass: You mentioned access as one of the four key elements of Microsoft’s interoperability efforts. Can you describe your work there?
Shank: About one year ago, Microsoft announced a set of broad-ranging changes to our technology and business practices: the Microsoft Interoperability Principles. The purpose of our Interoperability Principles is to increase the openness of our high-volume products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice. The aim of these principles – and the actions we’ve taken in support of them – is to give all software developers – including ISVs, open source developers and developers in customer IT departments – access to technical documentation and other resources that help them build products that work with ours.
Since then, we’ve made more than 50,000 pages of technical documentation publicly available for free on our MSDN Web site. This provides consistent, open access for all developers, which enhances the ease and opportunities for working with Microsoft’s high-volume products. We believe this has been helpful to many in the industry. In the past year, there have been nearly one million downloads of technical documentation for protocols built into Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Business Division products. Based on this information and other market data, we estimate that more than 100 companies and open source projects are using these protocols thus far.
PressPass: It seems like Microsoft is increasingly interested in the standards system. Can you tell me more about that?
Shank: Standards are a useful tool in addressing technical interoperability. When we see an unmet need in the market, we work jointly with other industry players to specify new standards that can help resolve the big interoperability issues facing enterprise customers. Accordingly, we have a long-term commitment to participating and contributing to standards bodies – currently more than 150 – and implementing and supporting standards in our products.
Paoli: This includes supporting relevant standards in our high-volume products, and documenting how we do so, to promote even greater levels of interoperability. Consistent with that principle, we recently published Implementers Notes describing how we implement the ODF file format standard in Office 2007. This was followed by our publication of Implementers Notes for Ecma 376 (Open XML). Together, these notes offer a comprehensive guide for how Microsoft is implementing these two international document format standards in its Microsoft Office suite, helping developers build products that interoperate with Office 2007 through the use of standardized file formats.
PressPass: We’ve talked about standards and openness. How does Microsoft deliver interoperability through its products?
Shank: We continue to enhance our products with new capabilities that can help reduce the cost of running a mixed IT environment, such as cross-platform management and virtualization. For example, interoperability is an important element of the work we’re doing with the Azure Services Platform, our new operating system and development platform for cloud computing. When a community technology preview (CTP) of the Azure Services Platform was made available, we provided software development kits (SDKs) for developers working in Java and Ruby.
Another way we’re doing this is through virtualization, which provides greater flexibility, enhanced interoperability, simplified management and a more efficient use of resources – especially for complex IT systems. In June 2008, Microsoft released Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V. A few months later, Microsoft and Novell jointly announced the availability of a virtualization solution that includes Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server running on Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V as an optimized guest operating system. And recently Microsoft and Red Hat entered into reciprocal agreements to provide testing, validation and joint technical support to shared customers using both Windows and Red Hat Enterprise Linux in a virtualized environment.
Paoli: Another recent product-related development is our work with Soyatec, a French IT solutions provider and Eclipse Foundation member, on a community technology preview of Eclipse4SL support for Macintosh. This enables Macintosh developers using Eclipse to develop rich internet applications using Silverlight. It’s the delivery of a project first announced last October with the launch of Silverlight 2, and it is funded by Microsoft as part of our continued commitment to openness and interoperability.
PressPass: So, what’s next for Microsoft’s interoperability work?
Shank: Interoperability will continue to guide how we build and license our top-selling products. Expect to see more technology bridges that will connect our products with others.
Paoli: We’re going to continue working closely with others in the IT industry – customers, partners, competitors and developers, including those in open source communities. They will help identify and solve interoperability challenges. As we mentioned earlier, this is a time of change. We’ve made some progress and we’re going to continue taking steps toward fostering greater interoperability.