New directory forum pledges open standards

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A group of top IT vendors, with a large supporting cast, today launched the Directory Interoperability Forum, pledging to work on open standards leading to interoperability of directory-based applications -- a move they said will boost e-commerce and support for Internet applications.

IBM, Novell Inc., Lotus Development Corp., Oracle Corp., Data Connection Ltd. and ISOCOR are the founding members of the forum, which requires participants to pledge support for open directory standards with the goal of interoperability. Directories are data repositories, which store information such as e-mail addresses, device configurations, passwords and phone numbers, often used by network administrators as well as e-commerce companies to transact business.

But incompatibility and lack of consistency among various directory applications stymie some companies and, in particular, software developers that write directory applications, officials from the founding vendors said at a press conference announcing the forum.

The forum will work to advance open directories based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), a directory standard initially developed at the University of Michigan. A key forum objective is to guarantee that any application written for an open directory will work with any other directory regardless of the vendor. Without a standard schema for directory interoperability, the market won't grow overall, vendor representatives noted.

"I think the onus is really on the vendor," said Jeremy Burton, Oracle vice president of tools marketing, regarding the need for companies to standardize directory access, especially for independent software vendors.

The founding companies have heard from customers that directory interoperability has become a must, particularly as the Internet has begun to drive business models, noted Al Zollar, general manager of IBM Networking Systems.

Forum members said they'll develop a common set of application programming interfaces (API) for their various directories to reach a common schema for all of them. Extensible Markup Language will be key to the APIs. Although the companies will work together, they all will be free to develop their own extensions for directories but will focus on interoperability even as they work independently on their directories.

Missing from the list of forum founders and supporters: Microsoft Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Though neither Microsoft nor Sun has pledged support for the forum, they and others not yet part of the directory group have been contacted about the initiative and are welcome to join in.

Microsoft does support LDAP and so would likely support the open standards push for directories, forum representatives insisted. However, Microsoft historically hasn't been known as a strong and early supporter of open standards groups not initiated by Microsoft itself.

As for the question of Microsoft's whereabouts from a literal standpoint as the press conference was under way, the company was separately announcing the acquisition of Zoomit Corp., a provider of meta-directory products in Toronto. Microsoft plans to integrate Zoomit technologies with its Active Directory service in the Windows 2000 server operating system. Zoomit's technologies focus on data that manages identities of computer users, such as account information, access rights and passwords.

Terms of the acquisition weren't releaased in a written Microsoft statement. Microsoft did say it will enhance its Active Directory with support for applications and network services that don't store identity information in directories.

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