Things would be so simple if companies could just sit down and agree for everyone to use the same computers, or at least the same operating system. In a perfect world, everyone would use Windows or UNIX or Apple or Linux and IT admins might actually find time to lean back and rest their weary bones.

But since we don’t live in a perfect world, admins live in a nightmare of mixed platforms and systems where juggling sensitive data around is something Dante would have described in grueling detail if computers had been around when he wrote the “Inferno”.

Cross-platform management is hell any way you look at it, but when it comes to regulatory compliance and auditing, Beelzebub really pours on the coals. Many vendors will offer to help you do this, including storage specialists such as EMC or Netapp, as well as providers of identity-based solutions for heterogeneous environments such as Quest, Centrify or Beyondtrust, just to name a few

I recently sat down with Ken Cheney of Likewise, whose company has attracted some signifigant VC interest (from Trinity and Intel), but has always seemed to me as the dark horse in the race for cross-platform integration, given that they do a large part of their business OEMing their technology to industry giants such as , Cisco, Citrix, Novell and, yes, EMC. He is in the business of providing cross-platform capabilities for IT admins to get Linux, Apple and others to work with Microsoft’s Active Directory, which is sort of clear spot in the turbid waters of platform diversity.

Likewise actually does market a product under its own brand called Likewise Enterprise (LWE), a free version of which called Likewise Open (LWO) can be downloaded for evaluation. In fact, for many companies looking for a quick and easy way to integrate their non-Windows systems with AD, the freebie may actually do the job pretty well, thank you, since it provides neat stuff like authenticating users with the same username and password on Windows and non-Windows systems, cross-platform policy enforcement, and credential caching in case your system goes down on you.

But if you want nice add-ons like dual-factor authentication, increased security for audit, or compliance requirements, directory migration, or group policy-based management, you need to get the Enterprise Edition which starts at $1,000 and includes 10 desktops and 1 year support.

Seems like a small price to pay to escape from cross-plattform purgatory. Imagine leaning back and knowing you’ve really locked you data down tight, bridged all the data gaps between sytems and earned yourself a nice, hellishly hot pot of Java – ahhh!