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As more customers desire solutions that encompass software from a variety of vendors, partners who provide mixed solutions will benefit in today’s market.  We talk to Microsoft’s director of innovation, Brett Roberts, about interoperability in the industry, Port 25 the online interoperability forum, the finer details of Microsoft’s agreement with Novell and why partners are set to benefit from offering interoperable solutions.

Interoperability is a hot topic in the IT industry – what exactly does it mean?
Brett Roberts: Interoperability is about companies creating products and systems that are able to work with each other seamlessly. It’s about creating standards that companies can adhere to so that their products align with other companies’ products for the benefit of the user.
By using software that is interoperable, customers can select and configure technologies that meet their specific requirements and not be confined and limited to using the products supplied by one particular vendor. Partners who offer solutions based on what their clients’ needs are, and have the flexibility to support products from various vendors, will thrive in today’s market.
From Microsoft’s perspective, it is also about transparency and predictability.  We want our customers to know that our technology is hassle-free. Microsoft has been firmly focused on interoperability for a long time now and, together with other commercial IT vendors, is developing software that meets open standards.

Port 25 has been referred to as the docking site for a Windows and Linux forum – is this the purpose of this site?
Port 25 (http://port25.technet.com/) is a website dedicated to creating a discussion within the industry about interoperability with Windows, Linux, UNIX and Mac. It’s a site where people can talk openly about their ideas and put them out to the industry for further discussion. The idea is not to reinforce stereotypes but to create an open forum where everyone can find meaningful ways to help customers in a mixed platform environment. As a rule there is no marketing on the site and people are expected to come to the table wanting to find solutions among their peers. Port 25 is great because it brings everything out in the open and leads to a healthy debate that will ultimately help partners and customers collaborate more.

Can you explain the components of the Microsoft / Novell agreement?
The announcement between Microsoft and Novell is essentially a number of broad business and technical collaboration agreements to build, market and support a series of solutions to make both companies’ products work better together. It also announced an agreement to provide each other’s customers with patent coverage for their respective products, and these agreements will be in place until at least 2012.

The patent cooperation agreement gives Microsoft and Novell customers assurance of protection against patent infringement claims and confidence that the technologies they deploy in their environments are compliant with the two companies’ patents.

There has also been the decision to create a joint research facility to test new solutions with the community.  Both companies will work together to create a virtualisation offering for Linux and Windows as well as finding easier ways for partners and customers to manage mixed Windows and SUSE Linux Enterprise environments.

Document format compatibility is also an aim and through the agreement Microsoft is working with Novell to find ways that OpenOffice and Microsoft Office system users can best share documents. Both parties are working towards creating translators to improve interoperability between Open XML and OpenDocument formats.
Customers want solutions that meet their needs and together both Windows and Linux are important to many SME and enterprise customers. This agreement helps customers and partners close the gap between these platforms and is an example of vendors working together to resolve complexity so their customers don’t have to worry about it.

What’s the motivation behind this agreement?
Through this agreement Novell is establishing clear leadership among the Linux platform and open source software providers on interoperability for mixed-source environments. For Microsoft it’s about adapting to our customers’ needs in a mixed environment.  Through this agreement we are enabling them to take advantage of both companies’ products seamlessly.

Why do partners need to know about interoperability and open standards?
Open standards are the key to delivering on mobility and future technologies as they enable New Zealand businesses to select the best technologies from different vendors and integrate them together. It is likely that partners who have traditionally focused on a Unix/Linux offering will now also be offering Windows-based solutions and support.  
Improving interoperability also means customers will spend less time on integration and will look for partners who offer them interoperable solutions that meet their needs. Open standards encourage competition and innovation which results in vendors creating better products and partners offering better solutions.
With the Novell/Microsoft agreement both parties are working together to give customers what they are asking for in areas of collaboration and innovation and we hope other parties will come on board.

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