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3/26/2002
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Uncle Scott Wants You!

Sun Microsystems looks to the open-source community in its battle for developers with Microsoft.

SAN FRANCISCO--Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun Microsystems, Tuesday drew the open-source community closer as an ally in his battle to take developers away from the "dark side," Microsoft. McNealy, joined by Apache Software Foundation VP Jason Hunter, said at the JavaOne Developer Conference here that Sun would heed Apache requests and permit open-source implementations of Java standards.

Pending approval by the Java Community Process, the organization that sets Java standards, the Apache group would build an open-source implementation of any proposed standard for Java. Test-compatibility kits would be provided at no cost, but also without support, to nonprofit groups like Apache or educational organizations implementing proposed Java specifications. To help ensure compatibility, Sun has pledged $1 million in scholarships over three years to help perform compatibility tests.

The announcement with Apache reflects Sun's intense effort to convince developers to build Web apps using Java rather than Microsoft's .Net. Both sides claim the loyalty of several million developers, and both platforms have embraced XML and emerging Web-services standards. Master of understatement McNealy said choosing Java was more than a choice of technology. It's a decision in the battle of "mankind versus the other architecture .Net. Mankind needs your help to continue to evangelize about this platform," McNealy told the gathering of developers. "I can't leave my kids to control-alt-delete. I can't leave my kids to MSN Microsoft Network."

McNealy insisted Java is gaining market share as the superior platform for connecting wireless devices to the Internet. "It isn't just the Windows desktop anymore," he said. "We're gaining market share big-time over the dark side." McNealy emphasized that Sun and its partners' open-standards approach with Java was the key advantage over Microsoft's proprietary technology that would tie a company to one vendor. "The most important issue is, Microsoft wants to be the service provider for .Net," McNealy said. "In the Java model, anyone can be a service provider."

McNealy poked fun at Microsoft chairman Bill Gates for issuing a memo in January calling for a companywide emphasis on high-quality code. "I guess that's why they pay Bill the big bucks--to come up with those insights," McNealy said. To support his claims of better security with Java, McNealy had Bill Boggess, a division chief for the U.S. Department of Defense, join him onstage at the conference to discuss the DOD's plan to roll out several million Java-based access cards, which look like credit cards but contain microchips running apps, as a means for identifying and authenticating personnel.

Despite McNealy's bravado, Sun is struggling to reverse the revenue declines it has suffered since the dot-com bust. Many Internet startups that later failed bought Sun servers. The company is trading for less than $9 a share nowadays.

McNealy's Microsoft bashing didn't impress all developers at the show. Following the keynote, Travis Zimmerman, software engineer for consulting firm Baldwin Hackett and Meeks Inc., headquartered in Omaha, Neb., said he doesn't pay much attention to the marketing wars between Sun and Microsoft. "We go with what the bottom line is--what's going to work," Zimmerman says. The firm uses the Java 2 enterprise platform to access back-end systems through the Web, but Microsoft servers to support desktop applications.

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