Microsoft Allies With CORBA for Interoperability

Microsoft Corp.’s relationship with both the UNIX and the CORBA camps has often played out like a fractious political dispute set in the heart of a conflagration such as the Middle East. Microsoft has traditionally refused to recognize either the existence or the validity of operating systems or technologies that are outside of the scope of Win32. Redmond has been making conciliatory overtures of late, however, and with the announcement of an initiative to integrate Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) COM technology with the CORBA-compliant Orbix Online Transaction Monitor (OrbixOTM) from Iona Technologies PLC (Cambridge, Mass.,, Microsoft may have offered its most significant olive branch to date.

"With Iona we are announcing … integration with the Microsoft Transaction Server so that you can initiate a transaction on Windows NT from a UNIX system, or you can initiate transactions from a Windows NT system on an Iona-based UNIX system, and that's a symmetric operation," acknowledged Steve Ballmer, executive vice president, sales and support of Microsoft’s worldwide business strategy group during a keynote address delivered at Microsoft’s Tech-Ed Conference, held during early June in New Orleans.

According to both vendors, the integration between the two products will allow transactional components to interoperate across the Internet. To this end, Microsoft and Iona will ensure that transactions initiated by components in either MTS or OrbixOTM will be able to involve components in either environment. The Microsoft/Iona initiative will leverage interoperability based on the Transaction Internet Protocol, a standard for Internet transaction processing currently proposed by the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Microsoft also announced an initiative with Visual Edge Software Ltd. (Quebec,, publisher of ObjectBridge, middleware that allows COM- and CORBA-based transactional systems to communicate with one another.

Some industry analysts are likening Microsoft’s capitulation to the CORBA forces as a significant political rapprochement of sorts.

"Right now [Microsoft’s] idea is that they’re willing to interoperate with anybody’s operating system as long as it is from Microsoft -- and that’s not a viable position for people who have heterogeneous environments," says Dan Kusnetzky, a director of operating environments and serverware research with International Data Corp. (Framingham, Mass., According to Kusnetzky, Microsoft may finally be beginning to internalize the idea that interoperability is a necessary strategy for enterprise success. "I think the thing that Microsoft is beginning to understand is that for them to reach the next round of customers that they want to reach, they have to fit into the environment a little bit better than they have in the past," Kusnetzky says.

Kusnetzky explains that CORBA has ultimately developed as the forum in which all non-Microsoft vendors have rallied, while COM and DCOM development is something that most enterprises are doing on the client side.

The big winners, says Rob Enderle, a senior analyst with the Giga Information Group (Santa Clara, Calif.), are developers. The hope, Enderle says, is that developers will be able to build transactional applications without regard for the underlying transactional infrastructure. Regardless of whether or not such a goal is ever realized, Enderle believes that Microsoft’s latest moves are indicative of a change in the software giant’s mindset. "I think that Microsoft is spending a little more time listening, so that they realize that some of these religious battles are really not that important in the overall scheme of things and that providing products that customers and developers want is what's really most important," Enderle explains.