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Exclusive Some say Sun Microsystems should give up on its Linux desktop ambitions, but there are serious signs of life that indicate the company may be on to a good thing, The Register has learned.

Well placed sources have confirmed that Sun is teaming up with service providers to roll out a whole new set of "rented" desktop services. As of yet, Yahoo was the only name mentioned, although one source confirmed there will be more large service providers on board. This news comes as Sun's desktop business nears profitability almost before it even opens for business.

"I am very confident that in a short period of time the doubters will shut up," said Jonathan Schwartz, the head of Sun's software business, in an interview with The Register. "We hope to convince the market that there is revenue to be had and are on a near term road to profitability."

Schwartz declined to comment on the service provider deals, picking Sun's favorite phrase of late - stay tuned - instead.

Schwartz did, however, say there are some large Java Desktop System deals that could close in the next few weeks and put this business in the black.

Sun does not actually start selling the Java Desktop System - a Linux OS with other open source software trappings - for another couple of weeks. But the company has signed up large users already who will receive kit as it rolls out.

In addition, Sun could be close to inking deals with IBM and HP around the Java Desktop System.

"We've had much more productive discussions with HP and IBM executives about licensing our desktop than we have had with Dell," Schwartz said. "Dell is kind of standing on the sidelines. They like to participate in mature markets, but this is one market that might mature without them."

Sun's favorite critic and professional cheerleader Steve Miloonovich, analyst at Merrill Lynch, publicly flogged the company for going after the desktop. He asked that Sun give up on its ownership of Java and forget about the client.

The latest news from the company seems to indicate "The Loon" might have missed the mark. Sun has pushed its thin client efforts in the past, but our sources indicate the upcoming desktop news will indeed make a splash.

Sun is batting around the idea of teaming with service providers to rent out applications such as StarOffice and also hardware such as online storage. The service provider could theoretically ship a thin client or white box to a consumer and then charge for various products. Do you want browsing, StarOffice and storage? Well, that's x dollars per month.

The idea is to offer cheap computers to certain types of customers who essentially rent the system. The service provider could manage the servers in its own data center. By shipping something like a thin client that has relatively few parts, the service provider and hardware maker reduce the risk of hardware failures.

Sun could then offer up a type of rent-a-blade product to either the service provider or end user. Customers would purchase storage space for their documents, photos and music.

Whether or not Sun's thin client strategy pays off remains to be seen. It has always been an idea well ahead of its time. In the near term, however, signs that Sun's desktop Linux efforts will be a money maker are encouraging. ®

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