Sun, IBM Take Different Approaches In Wireless Commitments

Further fueling their growing rivalry, Sun Microsystems and IBM on Monday disclosed ramped-up commitments to the wireless market while taking shots at the other's efforts. Sun unveiled a wide-ranging wireless strategy consisting of a new dedicated business unit, two new service practices, a $100 million venture fund, and a slew of new partners. IBM, meanwhile, introduced a server for wireless carriers and a piece of middleware designed to let those carriers deliver applications and services to mobile devices.

During a press conference, Sun president Ed Zander promised that despite the lack of deliverable products, the company will follow up on its wireless vision with relevant products. "Just what we did for the Internet with wired networking, we're going to try to do with wireless going forward," Zander said. Later, Sun execs said that IBM was making its announcement in response to Sun and that IBM's server was the wrong dimension for mounting in most standard server racks. IBM execs disputed those contentions and characterized Sun as being late to market.

Gartner Group analyst Ken Dulaney had very different takes on the two announcements. "IBM's got a credible product," Dulaney says. "I can't see what the heck Sun has." Dulaney described Sun's announcement as a desperation move, while he sees IBM's new product as a targeted attempt to compete with Phone.com Inc. IBM exec Jon Prial says that's precisely how the company sees its new middleware, too. "We feel Phone.com has a limited model," Prial says. "Acquiring companies is not the same as offering an integrated solution."

Aberdeen Group analyst Kelly Quinn had much kinder words about Sun's announcement. "They've actually given a hell of a lot more thought and substance than other folks in this space. Going through a Wireless Application Protocol browser to download a Java application, that's cool," Quinn says. She also likes Sun's decision to present only strategy at a time when introducing related products might be premature: "If you take something out to the market 18 months before it's ready for it, it's going to drop on its face."

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