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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc is planning a major software offensive against Microsoft Corp that is designed to unseat the company from its dominant position on the desktop and entry-level servers. Sun's plans are due to be announced at its SunNetwork event later this month, but executives of the Santa Clara, California-based company seem to be unable to stop themselves from dropping hints.

The first suggestions of a major assault on Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft's market share came in July when Sun executives revealed that the company was evaluating messaging software to build around its existing StarOffice productivity suite. "Sun has positioned itself as an end-to-end player, but without something on the desktop we are not end-to-end," commented Sun's senior director of marketing for desktop solutions, Tony Siress, at the time.

The drip feed continued at LinuxWorld in August with CEO Scott McNealy hinting at Sun's prospects for growth on the desktop. "The Linux desktop environment grew last year, and if you've lived through the last 12 months that I've lived through, the fact that anything grew was stunning," he said. "In addition to that we happen to be the provider of the most successful desktop productivity software and we happen to be invested in a variety of other desktop initiatives, and it seems like it might be time for us to bring all that together."

The latest executive to lift the lid a little more on Sun's plans is the company's global head of product development, volume sales, Peder Ulander. Talking to ComputerWire, Ulander was not prepared to make any pre-announcements ahead of the SunNetwork event, although he did discuss Sun's unique position to take on Microsoft and provided a few clues as to Sun's intentions.

Sun is the only system vendor without some form of link to Microsoft, according to Ulander. Unlike IBM Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co, it does not risk upsetting Microsoft as a partner by releasing competing products. Even Oracle Corp, the other chief Microsoft agitator, has to ensure that its products are available and supported on Microsoft's Windows operating systems to ensure it maintains its competition with Microsoft's SQL Server.

So what exactly are Sun's plans? While precise details remain close to Sun's chest, it is clear that the company is planning to assemble a suite of both open source and proprietary software products with which to go head to head with Microsoft. Some of these, such as the MySQL open source database, Sendmail messaging software, Samba file and print software, Apache web server, Mozilla browser, and Gnome desktop, have already been discussed by Sun executives.

It appears that Sun is planning to piece together a software stack comparable with Microsoft's Office and server software suites that, combined with Sun's existing software portfolio and Java expertise, will be capable of unsettling Microsoft's position on both the desktop and also entry-level server installations.

While the platform for Sun's attack on these markets will primarily be based on its own Linux and Solaris operating systems, there are indications that the company is preparing a software stack that could be deployed and managed on Windows (minus Unix-specific components such as Gnome, of course), enabling potential customers to evaluate a move away from Microsoft software without throwing out their investments in Windows. Sun's StarOffice suite is already available for Windows, as are Sendmail and MySQL.

Ulander also repeated previous comments by other Sun executives that customers are looking for alternatives to Microsoft products following Microsoft's introduction of rolling licensing, and said that Sun's role is to provide an open, platform-independent software stack that customers could deploy on their chosen platform.

Sun is also working to develop a set of standards to increase interoperability between third party applications and Microsoft Office. As reported on Monday, Sun is developing a set of XML standards for use in desktop applications with a set of unnamed partners and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

Sun is not the only company to be challenging Microsoft's position on the desktop. Last week Linux distributor Red Hat Inc disclosed its plans to target the desktop space, while Corel Corp recently won two major orders from HP and Dell Computer Corp to have its desktop software pre-installed on their consumer PCs.

© ComputerWire

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