Does Microsoft's recently announced embrace of interoperability and Web services standards bode well for developers working on service-oriented architecture (SOA) projects spanning Java, .NET and legacy mainframe systems?
Yes, says Eric Newcomer, CTO of Iona Technologies Inc. and a leader in industry standards development. Having worked to find ways to integrate with Windows for the past 14 years, beginning with a COM/CORBA bridge, he said in the past 18 months he has seen a change of heart at Microsoft regarding interoperability.
While Microsoft's newly expressed desire to play well with others has been applauded by vendors including Iona and this week by Novell Inc., it has also been greeted with skepticism by others most notably Red Hat Inc. However, acknowledging that Microsoft has not gone as far in openness for interoperability's sake as it might, Newcomer said, the Redmond software vendor has made a good start.
"We know there has been a mixed reaction, some cynicism and some skepticism," Newcomer said. "We know they could have gone farther than they went. Maybe they could have done more, but nonetheless it's a very significant step. We see it as among a number of steps they been making in the last year and a half towards more openness and greater interoperability."
Having spent the past 18 months working with Microsoft on interoperability between its Windows Communications Foundation (WCF) and Iona's Artix enterprise service bus (ESB), Newcomer credits Ray Ozzie with changing the tone at Redmond. The wider embrace of openness has coincided with the ascendancy of Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes, to the chief software architect position at Microsoft, and Bill Gates announced plan to retire, the Iona CTO noted.
"I personally would speculate that this may have something to do with the changing of the guard there," Newcomer said. On a recent visit to Redmond to discuss interoperability issues, he said Ozzie's name was frequently invoked in Microsoft presentations. "So I'm starting to think – this is just my personal view, nobody has said this to me – but my personal view is that Ray Ozzie is starting to have an impact on Microsoft and that may be among the reasons we're seeing more interest in interoperability than previously."
Critics of Microsoft may not appreciate how difficult it is for the vendor to change its culture, which has been based on the dominance of its Windows brand since the 1980s, Newcomer argues.
"It is difficult for Microsoft to change in this way because for most of their life they have been focused on promoting the Windows platform exclusively as the answer to everybody's computing requirements," he said. "But the world is heterogeneous and it's going to be. That's a fact of life. They are being practical about that recognition."
For SOA developers, Microsoft's new commitment to interoperability will make working in that heterogeneous world easier, Newcomer said.
"The interoperability issue is making life difficult for a lot of SOA developers," he said. "Having Microsoft open up some of their APIs and publish some of their extensions to standards is going to make it easier for companies, such as ourselves, to deliver interoperability solutions to those developers."
If Java vendors can achieve interoperability with Microsoft products then tasks such as integrating Windows-based applications with Java and legacy mainframe will be easier, the Iona CTO said. While not every IT shop is working with Java, Windows and legacy systems in their SOA implementations, Newcomer said it is common among customers he sees.
"Very often Microsoft is on the desktop," he said. "Sometimes there's an application in the Windows environment that somebody is using that needs to connect up. Sometimes our customer run server applications on Microsoft. We have one customer that using the mainframe as a client in the SOA to access a server in the Microsoft environment."
As a leader in SOA standards efforts, Newcomer said he is pleased to see Microsoft embracing "quite a few Web services standards" in WCF. At recent Microsoft interoperability events, he said he sees Microsoft testing implementations of