Restating its intention to play better with others, Microsoft today said it has started a group promoting software interoperability.

Twenty-five companies, including Sun Microsystems, BEA, XenSource, and Novell, have agreed to join the Interop Vendor Alliance (www.interopvendoralliance.org), which was announced officially at Microsoft's IT Forum in Barcelona, Spain.

The Alliance will focus on promoting interoperability with Microsoft software in areas such as systems management, virtualisation, identity management, data access, connecting multiple portals through web services-based single sign-ons (SSOs) and developer tools, according to Jason Matusow, Microsoft senior director for interoperability.

"We want to create a forum that creates an environment for getting things done," Matusow said. But he added vendors that join the group can still decline to make their products work with another member's if they believe it is in their business interest." Just because one member holds out his hand to shake doesn't mean the other one has to take it," he said.

Scott Williamson, a strategic alliance manager for CA , which is a founding member, says it is often "tricky" to set up technical alliances with companies, especially ones with large product lines that compete with CA in other areas. He sees hopes for the Alliance to ease and speed up the process of setting up politicallysensitive collaborations.

Other founding Alliance members include AMD, Business Objects, Citrix, NEC, Network Appliance, Quest Software, and Software AG.

Notable absentees to the Interop Alliance include enterprise software competitors to Microsoft such as Oracle and Red Hat, which are firms that dominate areas Microsoft wants to get into. Other examples include Google in web 2.0 services and VMware in virtualisation, as well as big companies that both compete and cooperate with Microsoft, such as IBM and HP.

A Microsoft spokeswoman said it is in "conversations" with some of the vendors above about joining the Alliance, but that they are "still evaluating the opportunity."

Rob Helm, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, believes Microsoft's intentions are sincere, if only in part because it faces market pressure "to be regarded as a good citizen in the data centre."

"Microsoft has picked on some areas like identity management and systems management where it is stuck in a multi-vendor world and could potentially be squeezed out of the data centre," he said.