Users wait for results from Microsoft, Sun pact

One year ago Microsoft and Sun Microsystems struck a peace accord that has been described as a watershed event for the technology industry and a potential boon for users. Although the deal ended the antagonism between the companies, users still may have to wait well into the 10-year alliance to see major results.

"There is no real visibility of the benefits of the deal yet," said Dave Shearer, spokesman for the U.K. Sun user group. "I had no real expectations timescalewise. These things always seem to take a long time to work."

Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, agreed. "I think the expectations were not particularly high. Nobody expected Java and .Net to merge or suddenly coexist. Nobody expected Sun to start selling Windows. It basically was an expensive settlement to a legal battle."

On April 2, 2004, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Sun CEO Scott McNealy exchanged Detroit Red Wings hockey jerseys in a San Francisco hotel room and said changes were coming for their customers. McNealy promised progress reports as part of Sun's quarterly product announcements.

As part of the deal, Microsoft paid Sun US$1.95 billion. That settled all outstanding litigation between the companies and started a dialogue and technology exchange as part of a 10-year collaboration agreement.

Since then Microsoft and Sun have been coy about their collaboration. The companies have started work on four proposed Web services standards, and certain Sun hardware products have been certified to support Windows Server software.

Microsoft Spokesman Jim Desler said the companies have made "small but incremental progress" during the past year. "I think we have been realistic from the outset that this was not really going to be judged by days or weeks or one year, but really where the companies are going in the next five to 10 years," he said.

In a December conference call Hank Vigil, Microsoft vice president of partnerships, said, "Not only are we crawling well, but we're learning how to walk, and some day we expect to run together."

The accord between Microsoft and Sun did change the dynamics between the companies. Engineers of both companies have regular meetings, as do senior executives, including Microsoft Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos, who have conference calls every two weeks, according to Sun.

Collaboration between Sun and Microsoft on several proposed Web services standards may eventually help interoperability. The standards include WS-Addressing, WS-Eventing, WS-Management, and WS-Metadata Exchange.

"Over the course of the past year there really has been a sea change in terms of approach and attitude between the two companies," said Microsoft's Desler. "Engineers are focusing on what we can do together, what we can work on together, rather than, 'What am I saying now that may appear in court six months or a year down the line?' "

For Sun, an important measure of the deal's success is how much easier it is to use Solaris and Windows together. "We are really committed to our (intellectual property), but we want to have interoperability with Microsoft," said Ben Lenail, director of corporate development at Sun who manages the Microsoft relationship.

(Robert McMillan contributed to this story.)

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