Interoperability (pronounced IHN-tuhr-AHP-uhr-uh-BIHL-ih-tee) is the ability of a system or a product to work with other systems or products without special effort on the part of the customer. Interoperability becomes a quality of increasing importance for information technology products as the concept that "The network is the computer" becomes a reality. For this reason, the term is widely used in product marketing descriptions.
Products achieve interoperability with other products using either or both of two approaches:
- By adhering to published interface standards
- By making use of a "broker" of services that can convert one product's interface into another product's interface "on the fly"
A good example of the first approach is the set of standards that have been developed for the World Wide Web. These standards include TCP/IP, Hypertext Transfer Protocol, and HTML. The second kind of interoperability approach is exemplified by the Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA) and its Object Request Broker (ORB).
Compatibility is a related term. A product is compatible with a standard but interoperable with other products that meet the same standard (or achieve interoperability through a broker).
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- The InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) at the University of New Hampshire heads consortia for testing products in any of these areas of standards and technology: 1394, ADSL, ATM, Fast Ethernet, FDDI, Fibre Channel, Gigabit Ethernet, IP/Routing, Network Management, Token Ring, VLAN, and Wireless.
- Through its OpenAir specification, The Wireless LAN Interoperability Forum is trying to foster interoperability among wireless LAN manufacturers.
- TURNIP , the URN Interoperability Project, provides benchmarks for testing experimental Uniform Resource Names (URNs). URNs are an improvement on the URLs of today's familiar Web page addresses.