Bill Hilf, the programme's director, demonstrated at the LinuxWorld tradeshow in San Francisco how his team has improved interoperability between Linux and Windows, hoping to drive some Unix and Linux business to the company.
The conference session prior to the event was labelled as controversial because of Microsoft's position towards open source.
"My role is not to exterminate the Penguin," Hilf told delegates. "My role is to be very critical inside Microsoft for our customers and with the open source community."
The lab uses about 300 desktop and server systems running a series of operating systems, ranging from Unix to the recently launched Windows Vista beta 1. In getting all the machines to work and talk together, the team has solved several problems, according to Hilf.
The team spent a lot of time improving how Linux systems can talk to Microsoft's Active Directory and finally settled on a third-party application called Centrify.
"Getting authentication to work correctly with Active Directory is not simple," admitted Hilf. "It's often fragile and to do it in a broad way is a non-trivial technical task."
The team, made up of Unix and Linux programmers and system administrators, will also submit bugs in open source projects if they find them. In one instance they dealt with a problem that prevented the Gaim unified instant messaging client from communicating through the MSN network.
The application allows users to access multiple instant messaging networks through a single application. Microsoft does not traditionally support unified messaging clients. "It might have been the first time that Microsoft ever helped someone else to talk to MSN," said Hilf.
The team is also involved with upcoming Microsoft technologies to help organisations migrate from Unix or Linux to Windows.
The forthcoming R2 update of Windows Server 2003, for instance, will contain a subsystem that allows the application to run applications written for Unix. The final version of the software is expected later this year.
Microsoft is also working on a technology dubbed MSH, codenamed Monad. Hilf showed in a demonstration that the new scripting language allows Unix administrators to use Unix commands inside Windows.
"One of the biggest problems people have with moving from Unix to Windows has not been that they don't like the price of Windows," he said.
"The biggest problem is that they don't know what to do when they get there. They are unable to move their skills over when they get there."
Monad gained instant notoriety last week after security vendor F-Secure signalled a first proof-of-concept virus for the application and mistakenly labelled it as the world's first virus for Windows Vista.
- A video of Hilf's Monad demonstration is available here
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