Next-Gen Web Services: Sun exec urges independence

Like a revolutionary urging rebellion, Sun Microsystems's Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for the company's software group, urged attendees at InfoWorld's Web services conference last Thursday to consider alternatives to Microsoft's desktop hegemony.

Schwartz told attendees at the conference, entitled Next-Generation Web Services II: The Applications, to do more to promote competition, rather than relying on the industry's dominant desktop player, Microsoft.

"It's as much in the industry's best interest to have access to choice as it is in Sun's best interest," Schwartz said. "Microsoft can obliterate the value on the desktop, including forcing you to sign up for Passport [Microsoft's Internet identity plan]," he said.

"The point should not be lost on you that they are sucking value out of the economy into their collective coffers," Schwartz said.

"Are you guys taking seriously the .Net onslaught, which is going on right now?" he asked.

Schwartz promoted Sun's Project Mad Hatter package, announced at the SunNetwork 2002 conference in San Francisco Wednesday, as a much less expensive alternative to Windows PCs. Mad Hatter involves using off-the-shelf Intel hardware plus Linux and a Mozilla browser, enabled by Java Card technology.

Schwartz also stressed Java as an alternative to .Net, and he noted Web services are being written today for one or the other platform. But he encountered some resistance from the crowd.

"Personally, I'm not a big fan of the browser as the universal client," one audience member declared.

Another attendee cited a lack of unity in tools for Java. "The .Net toolset comes from a single vendor. [Developers] see a package from a single vendor that really answers their needs."

Schwartz displayed results of a survey that he said indicated that "there are one billion PCs in the world and 9 percent of [the users of] them have no interest in exploring an alternative." PCs and supporting them have gotten expensive, he said.

One attendee, Bill Mann, director of product management at Volera Inc., a San Jose, Calif., vendor of caching and streaming products, said Sun could make headway into specific vertical markets, such as call centers, with its Project Mad Hatter strategy. But, he added, Sun's impact against Microsoft would be limited because people are resistant to change.

Schwartz, commenting on a rift that has kept Sun out of the IBM Corp.-Microsoft-BEA Systems Inc.-driven Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), said the company would consider joining the group.

However, "I think we're a little suspect of joining a standards body that has a fear of adding more members."

Schwartz also stressed Sun's commitment to Solaris and argued that IBM is "abandoning" its AIX Unix system in favor of Linux.

Sun, he said, sees the application server as a feature in an operating system. To the chagrin of J2EE application server vendor BEA, Sun recently decided to include an application server within the Solaris 9 operating system.

In addition, Schwartz indicated that Sun would soon be making a move in the United States to donate StarOffice to academia, like it has done to the tune of US$6 billion worth of software overseas.

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