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4/9/2004
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Software Truce Will 'Grow The Market'

First results of Sun-Microsoft pact due in June, Sun's Schwartz says

Business-technology managers were surprised—and pleased—when Sun Microsystems and Microsoft ended their long-running feud earlier this month. Now they're waiting to see whether the two companies can actually collaborate to produce products that work together better.

Sun president Jonathan Schwartz says the first fruits of the new relationship will begin to appear in the coming months. Sun plans to outline the benefits for customers when it makes its next product announcements in June in Shanghai, China. Sun needs to move quickly after warning of a third-quarter loss in the $750 million to $810 million range, Schwartz told InformationWeek.

By ending hostilities and achieving greater interoperability between their products, Sun and Microsoft will "grow the market for both companies," Schwartz says. If their software works well together, customers will be able to use any platform to build Web services.

The two companies offered few details on their product plans when announcing the truce. But work done under the alliance could plunge deeper into their respective product lines than previously disclosed, Schwartz says.

Still, there are no guarantees that deep-seated suspicion between the two won't resurface, analysts warn. And a successful relationship could produce combined proprietary products that further lock customers into the vendors' technologies, warns Dana Gardner, an analyst with the Yankee Group research firm.

One key area for swift improvement is a better working relationship between Microsoft's Active Directory and Sun's Identity Server, part of its Enterprise Java System software, Schwartz says.

It's about time that happened, says Tony Scott, chief technology officer at General Motors Corp. "GM's whole desktop [network] runs off Active Directory," Scott says. GM also runs Sun's Directory and Identity Servers. "Getting better interoperability between them would help," he says, potentially saving 5% to 10% on project-development and deployment costs.

Microsoft and Sun also are cooking up some cooperative use of Microsoft's database, SQL Server. It has more to do with Sun's need to store management information in its Java Enterprise System software than with creating a database platform, Schwartz says. "There's definitely ample opportunity for us to think about the way to strategically align our products for the growth of both our businesses."

"One glaring omission in the Sun [software] stack is no database-management system," says Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with research firm the Burton Group. "Microsoft drivers for SQL Server, if you're a Java developer, are subpar," he says. Microsoft started making its own Java database driver within the past few years to improve quality, a manager at the company says.

Sun and Microsoft plan to remain fierce competitors. Sun has no plans to back off marketing its Java Desktop, which offers a Microsoft Office look-alike, Star Office, and Linux as an alternative to Microsoft's PC software, Schwartz says. The alliance has been described as potentially anti-Linux, but Schwartz says Sun's success with Java Desktop is "the single biggest propellant to Linux."

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