Microsoft has formed a new vendor group to improve inter-operability between software and hardware, and its and competitors' products.

Twenty-five vendors in total, including BEA, CA, Novell and Sun have agreed to join the "Interop Vendor Alliance",. The group was announced at a Microsoft conference in Barcelona earlier this month and will hold technical meetings and Microsoft-hosted testing sessions to replicate real-world problems faced by corporate users.

"We want to create a forum that creates an environment for getting things done," said Jason Matusow, Microsoft's senior director of inter-operability. "Standards are important, but standards alone don't make things inter-operable. And after-the-fact plug-ins are not satisfactory. We want to push scenario-based testing of actual shipping products."

Matusow added that a group member can still decline to make its products work with those of another if it doesn't think inter-operability would be in its business interest. "Just because one member holds out his hand to shake doesn't mean the other one has to take it," he said.

The group is also missing many of the top IT vendors including IBM, HP, Google, Oracle, Red Hat and VMware. A spokeswoman said that Microsoft is in "conversations" with some of those companies about joining the alliance and that they are "still evaluating the opportunity".

This is the second inter-operability announcement made by Microsoft this month, following a controversial deal with Novell that included making Windows and SuSE Linux work better together.

It is with some irony then that the European Commission last week threatened to fine Microsoft if it doesn't submit missing documentation for inter-operating with Windows. Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said he thinks the company's intentions are sincere, even if that's partly because it faces market pressure "to be regarded as a good citizen in the data centre".