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Sun wastes bullets on .NET in shooting spree

The Correct Use of SOAP

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Sun spent so much of yesterday protesting that Sun ONE was not a me-too announcement cobbled together in response to Microsoft's .NET marketecture, that we started to get annoyed that they were annoyed. It's a new name, but with no new products behind it, no new business areas to tackle, simply support for a few new buzzwords keenly used by the other side, Sun simply engaged in some minor rebranding.

Sun said its Forte development tools would get SOAP support later this year encapsulating EJB back ends. The iPlanet app server gets beefed up a little, and the months-late Star Portal gets renamed Sun ONE WebTop 1.0. And er, that's it.

Not that we're disappointed. Ever since IBM's anti-Unix rebranding ploy, SAA, fell apart no one other than Microsoft has regularly reached for the over-reaching, uber-strategic ploy marketecture. Microsoft alone can afford to do it every few weeks. Simply saying you've been converted into an 'Internet company' is enough for most vendors. Nonetheless some, and none more so than Sun, need to go through the motions of these vanity exercises every few months.

For this one, we had several weeks of spin and counter-spin, accompanied by weird and as it transpired, bogus stories like the one about Sun executive Marco Boerries bolting for the exit. That particular rumour had uncanny similarities to Microsoft's psy-ops against Symbian, only this time, it wasn't even remotely true. Microsoft even mailed a 15-question crib sheet to journalists over the weekend, so we think Microsoft comprehensively swallowed Sun's bait, and lost it. Stop distracting them Sun, they've got an appeals case to fight, somewhere.

And much of the time was taken up so with head on jibes: some of which hit the mark, and some of which didn't.

There was plenty of righteousness about Redmond's embrace and extend. "Sun doesn't have to own [a technology] to participate in standards", said Pat Sueltz. Unless of course... it's Java, where Sun owns the technology and the standards process. And although Sun, unlike Microsoft, can usually be cudgeled into doing The Right Thing in the end, its early entries into the standards sharkpond can be pretty clumsy. For example when Sun announced, belatedly, that it was introducing its own APIs for XML, rather than backing the community's SAX (or other xml-dev alternatives), Elliotte Rusty Harold (of Cafe au Lait/con Leche website and author of XML ina Nutshell) ... described the move as ... "yet another example of Sun using its control of Java to put its grubby, proprietary hands all over any technology it wants to own". Coming from your own community, and most experienced users, that should be a vote and work reasonably transparently.

But some barbs were far more effective. When McNealy calls .NET a hairball for the Internet, he's doing more than leveraging an old Windows gag. He's quite right, Microsoft does want all roads to lead to "Rome dnd" [anag.] - in that very vertically integrated way MS execs seem to think is so smart. And it is IBM in 1984 up there. So he ridiculed the .NET scheme that wants to point the portal users back to Microsoft's own MSN portal, the integration between Commerce Server and Exchange, between Exchange and Active Directory, between and Active Directory and SQL Server. Yes, and there's the Kerberos funnies, leading to the single sign on funnies, and the DAV funnies (which no one seems to care about), and so on.

Why shooting at .NET is a waste of bullets

Well here in San Francisco fifteen months ago, Microsoft sketched out the technology for .NET. (The marketing day, and the name came last year, but the technical details were laid out in San Francisco in September the previous year.) It was a kind of 'This is how we get COM users out of the sinking boast into Web Services' theme, and used examples replicated almost exactly by Sun yesterday. Then, Microsoft announced its services infrastructure (SOAP, Visual Studio all serving the BizTalk server) arguing that BizTalk was just that: a spec, and Microsoft would win because it would do the best implementation on Windows.

Sun may not win on tools, but it won't be the only game intown. When an MS initiative isn't playing well in the market, it tends to scupper the ship. And the lack of alternative tools vendors on Windows means that nearby ships get pulleddown with it.

Sun is probably right to take it seriously, but not too much. No one takes .NET that seriously. If you buy the argument that FUD has been a useful Microsoft marketing tool- far more useful than its products or real market share gains, in gaining ongoing mindshare (think Exchange/Notes) - then this is the most ambitious FUD exercise of them all. Instead of persuading a narrow application market to hover (such as suggesting to Notes users that they delay their upgrades before they've seen MS groupware; it eventually rolled out many moons as a mail server, without the collaborative tools, replication etc...) Money buys column inches, you just have to make a loud enough noise, and now Microsoft wants to delay the enterprise market from committing to platform upgrades. It it spends enough, it can buy the attention.

.NET is vague, and deliberately so: if Microsoft can recite it with the necessary conviction, it might just sow the suggestion amongst those Davos big spenders that they know something the rest of us don't. Of course the Microsoft guys don't have any more clue than anyone else, almost certainly less, and their proposition is at best highly optimistic. The big iron guys don't want the Microsoft run-time to run well natively on their servers, so it will forever be relegated to edge tasks.

So for Microsoft, it has to persuade business that the edge tasks are as important as the database/centralized high volume transaction processing work, and can be done just as reliably. We can't think of a real world model where that happens. And you can say Napster as much as you like: the wealthy want to aggregate all their data, like all their money, in one safe place. And that's where IT money will follow. ®

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