About a year ago we announced the intent to create an interop exec council with the goal of creating a forum for in-depth discussion of interoperability issues with enterprise customers and government CIOs. The group had its first meeting last October, and its second plenary session at the beginning of May. In between we have been conducting an ongoing set of meetings with architects from the member organizations to further dig into the issues raised during the full sessions.

Peter Galli from eWeek just published an article about the work we have been doing on this front, and there is a Q&A with Bob Muglia from Microsoft (SVP of Server and Tools) about the same topic.  

At the first meeting in October we talked a great deal about the different elements that make up interoperability. Looking around the web you will find a wide range of definitions for interoperability and that is because it means very different things to different people. It was really educational to hear the range perspectives - everything from the idea that interop was best achieved through standardized solution stacks (not industry standards, but rather in-house tested stacks) to the idea that technical interop was not interesting at all compared to business process interop. In the end though, it was agreed that there are different facets to be considered and the focus of this council is technical interop.

The council is considering 4 primary areas of work, and the Microsoft team supporting the council is both looking at what Microsoft is doing as well as what we can be doing in the future to address these needs. The four focal points are: office productivity and collaboration tools, developer tools and runtime environments, security and identity management, and systems management. Stemming from the first meeting and the 20+ additional meetings with architects more than 40 scenarios across the 4 areas were raised as concerns. Ultimately, the value of all this work will take the shape of technical documentation, best practices guides, focused interoperability projects, and potentially changes to some of our products. Like any group of this sort we are not under any mandate to do everything raised by the council members. Rather, we absoutely want the input and the dialogue to determine what strategy(ies) may be best suited for the situation.

In the Q&A referenced above you will see similar information to what I'm posting here. We have found that some requested items have solutions already, some we can provide immediate new solutions for, and others are harder issues that will take more time and outreach to other vendors to approach. So, there were a number of questions in the office productivity discussion where extensibility and interop capabilities of our Sharepoint Server 2007 and/or Host Integration Server 2006 can meet the stated needs. 

There was a request for us to address an interop concern for our Unified Communications Server product, and thus we have built an Ajax Service interface. Essentially, this is going to allow web apps to have zero-download XML+JavaScript-based IM functionality on any non-Windows platform using non-MS browsers that support Ajax. Another example of the work we are doing due to council request is reaching out to the community that has created a toolkit that is facilitating the use of Open XML through Java. The longer-term issues raised to date focus on .NET/Java interop, management technologies, and security/identity.

If you have additional items that you would like to see us think through - please feel free to post them here. Also, if you have checked it out lately, you may want to take a walk around www.microsoft.com/interop. My team has been working hard on constantly updated that site and raising its value as a technical resource.