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Microsoft preaches unity

Microsoft is readying a software development kit that makes cross-platform development easier by unifying directory services from multiple vendors.

Hoping that interoperability will spur use of its forthcoming directory service, Microsoft (MSFT) will release a software developer's kit next week that provides cross-platform access to directory information.

The Active Directory Services Interface (ADSI) kit provides a set of tools for developers to write applications that can take advantage of Microsoft's Active Directory, Novell's Directory Services (NDS), and any Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP)-compliant directory such as the one offered by Netscape Communications.

A directory is like an address book that includes all network resources so that cross-platform applications can find them. A directory is an important component of client-server computing, since systems and applications are spread over multiple network segments.

The toolkit will be available for developers to download Monday from Microsoft's Web site.

A key feature of the ADSI APIs (application programming interfaces) is the synchronization of information between directories from multiple vendors. This allows an administrator to set up a directory of resources that includes Novell NetWare servers, Windows NT servers, and Netscape Web servers all at the same time.

Microsoft executives point out that this is among the first company-initiated specifications that is truly "open," with no added benefits or incentives for developers to use Microsoft technology. Its forthcoming Active Directory Service, a highly-anticipated feature of the next Windows NT release, is expected to close the technology gap with Novell's NDS. Active Directory may gain converts because of the cross-platform interface.

"There is absolutely no added benefit to develop for NDS or Active Directory with this tool," said Enzo Schiano, group product manager for Windows NT Server. "We just want to be able to interoperate with any directory service."

"We think it adds a lot of value in terms of developers leveraging their existing code base," Schiano said.

Proponents of LDAP-enabled directories may be confused by the ADSI kit; LDAP is a protocol that purports to have similar functionality. But Microsoft said LDAP is problematic since all directories do not include LDAP support and developers have found the protocol "difficult to use."

"This will essentially take a lot of the pain out of using the LDAP API," Schiano said.