With a company culture that calls itself Darwinian and promotes survival of the fittest, Microsoft is not known for embracing its competitors—unless that embrace is a fatal constriction or serves Microsoft's interests. In the case of OS and application interoperability or coexistence, the company has realized that its self-interest is best served by helping its customers be successful no matter what competing products they use in addition to Microsoft's products. And to win new customers away from other platforms, Microsoft has suddenly remembered the old adage "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." That's an important message if your survival depends on catching flies—and keeping the ones you already have.
Catching Flies with Honey
When I think of the vinegar days, I hear Steve Ballmer threatening death and destruction to Linux. In contrast, today's new honey approach to Linux users includes sweet enticements that range across Microsoft product lines.
At the high end, Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 is designed to accommodate interoperability with Linux, the heretofore undisputed master of the highperformance computing (HPC) domain. Kyril Faenov, Microsoft's director of HPC, recently said, "We are well aware that high-performance computing is heterogeneous and multifaceted . . . In addition to enabling partners to build products that run on Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003, we've been careful to invest in interoperability. For example, we have a great partnership with Platform Computing—the leading vendor for job schedulers—and have done the work so our respective job schedulers can communicate with one another. Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 also comes with the Microsoft Message Passing Interface, based on the reference implementation of the MPI2 standard, to make it easier to port existing parallel applications."
Across all customer segments, Windows Server 2003 Release 2 (R2) includes numerous interoperability and coexistence features. In a recent conversation about Windows Server 2003 Enterprise Edition (EE) R2, Rik Wright, group product manager, Windows Server and Tools, told me, "Look at what we've done in R2 for interoperability. A whole series of technologies ship in R2 that enable UNIX guys to better understand the Microsoft platform and easily interoperate with it. And in small and medium business, we're providing tools to interface with UNIX machines."
What are some of those technologies? Rik replied, "There's Directory Services. With R2 we move towards Kerberos authentication native in AD. There's SUA's \[Subsystem for UNIX-based Applications'\] cross-platform management, which lets you run the same scripts across the whole domain, whether it's Windows or UNIX. Under SUA, you can take applications and recompile them and run them in Windows. There's NFS capability to share and print files across both domains. And we have password synchronization, so you can have the same password on your UNIX domain and your Windows domain."
Sweetening the Vinegar
In addition to providing these technologies, R2 includes Virtual Server support for interoperability. In an example of Microsoft's turn from vinegar to honey, the company has reversed its initial decision not to support Virtual Server's ability to run Linux. Jim Ni, group product manager, Virtual Server, told me, "For our R2, we support Linux as a guest. So one of the virtual machines running on top of Virtual Server can now be Linux."
Microsoft's newfound acceptance of heterogeneous environments even extends to its management products. Rik noted, "If you look at our overall strategy, whether at the platform layer or moving on to the management layer with System Center Operations Manager \[or Ops Manager, formerly MOM\] and System Center Configuration Manager \[or SCCM, formerly SMS\], those support managing Linux workloads. Ops Center's plugin architecture lets third parties build management packs to support Linux. SCCM, leveraging its relationship with Quest Software's Vintella, can patch Linux. So Virtual Server is not just Windows but looks at the x86 and x64 infrastructure holistically."
Survival of the Fittest
In nature, the fittest is usually the most adaptable. I'm always fascinated to see how Microsoft adapts to challenges, even when it would seem to be too late to make a difference. Providing tools to help customers be successful with their Microsoft environments—even if those environments include competitors' products—is a revolutionary evolution for Microsoft.
Flies, prepare for some sticky treats!