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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

A new messaging and databases competitor is preparing to join battle with IBM, Microsoft Corp and Oracle Corp - and it's no start-up,

Gavin Clarke writes

Sun Microsystems Inc told ComputerWire last week it is evaluating launching an e-mail client to rival Microsoft's Outlook, and a separate database for deployment on the edge of a network.

The company is working with open-source partners and evaluating products, but it is unclear whether Sun will make acquisitions or prefer to partner.

Contenders for partnership or acquisition could include Uppsala, Sweden-based MySQL AG, closely associated with the popular database, and Boston, Massachusetts-based Ximian Inc with its Evolution messaging client that supports Microsoft's Exchange and IBM's Lotus Domino.

Sun was unwilling to comment on potential acquisitions or partners, and neither MySQL or Ximian could be reached for details at time of going to press.

Sun's decision to enter messaging follows a similar announcement by Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle.

Sun hopes to fill holes in its software portfolio, notably on the desktop. Evolution - or a derivative - would potentially fit into StarOffice while hooking into Exchange. Access to Exchange would increase appeal of StarOffice as a piece of enterprise desktop software.

Sun does own messaging and collaborating software, with the Sun ONE Messaging Server and Calendar Server from the former iPlanet business. However, these lack a client and are most widely used in telecomms infrastructures.

"Sun has positioned itself as an end-to-end player, but without something on the desktop we are not end-to-end," said Sun's senior director of marketing for desktop solutions Tony Siress.

He said customers are looking to Sun for alternatives to Microsoft products like Outlook, Exchange and Office given that company's introduction of rolling licensing.

Survey's say Microsoft's new licensing is unpopular and more expensive for many than the older model. Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer last week dismissed this, saying the "perceived pain [is] worse than the real pain" for customers.

However, referring to the re-vamped StarOffice 6.0, launched in May, Siress said Sun's goal is to give alienated customers low-priced software alternatives to Microsoft's offerings. Sun has recorded 70,000 downloads of StarOffice 6.0 since launch.

"Our goal [for StarOffice] was to create a business model not a $10m profit engine," Siress said. "Our goal is to build commercial implementations that are affordable."

Jonathan Schwartz, software group executive vice president, called an open-source database an effective weapon in the database market. "We think the database market, at the edge of the network, is really redefining what people need in a database," he said. Schwartz added Sun would work with Oracle, not compete, on Linux.

Sun's strategy is a significant change in pace. Sun's software business has for years been the poor-relation to Sun's hardware business. The decision to sweep-up low-cost, popular, open-source software into commercial offerings contrasts to Sun's meandering and confused approach over older versions of StarOffice.

Sun bought StarOffice in a blaze of publicity, but the suite was kept at arms length in the open source community, where it served as a freely downloadable stalking horse to Office. It fared poorly on features as a result.

Siress said the decision to harness open source software across several products could be attributed to the corporate reorganization and executive reshuffling in May. That created a Sun Software Group headed by former chief strategy officer Schwartz, giving him authority over software.

"It was impossible to have a strategic vision before because the pieces were in different places. With Jonathan running everything, we can be more strategic," Siress said.

© ComputerWire

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