Netscape, Sun To Merge Application Servers

Sun Microsystems Inc. and Netscape Communications Corp., brought closer together by the pending America Online Inc. (AOL)-Netscape merger, will combine two key product lines once the merger is approved, Sun officials said here yesterday.

Alan Baratz, the president of Sun's Java Software division, said that his company's HotJava browser and Netscape's Navigator will become one product, written in Java so that it can run on multiple systems -- not just PCs but smaller devices such as cable set-top boxes and PDAs. A similar joint effort, dubbed "Javagator," was dropped early this year after Netscape ended its client-side Java development.

Also, a key Sun executive said that Sun and Netscape will combine its application server products. Just over a year ago, two companies ruled the roost in this emerging market, Kiva and NetDynamics. Netscape bought Kiva in November 1997 and Sun bought NetDynamics this summer, effectively putting the companies in head-to-head competition.

"Until the (Netscape-AOL merger) closes, it's 'NetDynamics, NetDynamics. NetDynamics' from us," said Jonathan Schwartz, who oversees NetDynamics and other enterprise software products for Java Software. "After the deal closes, we'll work to combine the products."

It will be a single product owned by both AOL and Sun, Schwartz said. How that ownership is worked out is not clear. Schwartz and Baratz both spoke of integrating cultures and technologies, but both stopped short of saying Sun would hire Netscape personnel.

Netscape representatives said that federal regulations prevent them from commenting on their product roadmap until the merger is approved.

Sun's Baratz and Schwartz made their comments the day that Sun announced it would give the Java community more say in the Java development process. It also amended its Java licensing structure. In effect, Sun will no longer demand up-front fees from Java licensees. Instead, it will charge licensees a royalty for each product unit they ship, a model the company has been moving toward for at least a year.

The new licensing scheme is also supposed to appease disgruntled Java community members such as Hewlett-Packard Co.. HP has developed its own Java "clone" for consumer devices, nicknamed "Chai." According to Baratz, Chai is not Java-compatible and threatens to fragment Java's "write once, run anywhere" promise. But it could become compatible: Under yesterday's licensing changes, a clone maker can now license Sun's source code free of charge to fix its compatibility errors. It can then use the Java logo and license its own Java-compatible clone to a set-top box manufacturer, for example.

But Sun has made sure it makes money from potential clones. In the above scenario, the set-top box maker must pay Sun a royalty fee for each unit it ships, in addition to any fee it pays to the licensee. In addition, the manufacturer must also be a Java licensee.

In other words, the amendments may give licensees more flexibility, but it's also more complicated. Sun insists that it won't make too much money.

"We don't get rich on royalties from Java," said Sun Vice President Jim Mitchell. "Maybe we'll cover expenses, or at best make a small profit."

Sun's biggest Java ally expressed doubts about the new scheme. IBM Corp., which sees itself as the most business-savvy and perhaps the most powerful of the Java licensees, was pressing for Sun to make the Java source code freely available. Sun didn't oblige, although it has clearly stated that the new licensing scheme is not an open source initiative along the lines of Linux or Apache.

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