Forte Acquisition Could Open Up Windows at Sun

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s purchase this week of Forte Software Inc. netted much more than a tool to produce Java for Solaris. But some doubt whether Sun is willing to embrace the other platforms that Forte's customers use.

Unlike Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp., Sun has kept other platforms at arm's length, including the lucrative Windows NT and Intel Corp. alliance. Analysts said the Forte deal gives Sun an opportunity to outwardly support Windows more broadly, but the company might ignore its chance.

Before Oakland, California-based Forté adopted Java 11 months ago, it had built its business - valued in the transaction at $540 million - on an application development and deployment environment that generates C++ code for myriad platforms. Sun's business, meanwhile, is based on selling SPARC hardware running the Solaris operating system and licensing Java and other technologies.

Not Just Solaris

Forté President Marty Sprinzen said only a quarter of Forté's customers deploy on Solaris. And Sun President Ed Zander insisted that Sun would support Forté's non-Java tools and non-Solaris customers. Forté, he said, will operate intact as a subsidiary. "We're not just a systems and hardware and Solaris play," Zander said.

Analyst John Rymer at Upstream Consulting Inc. in Emeryville, California, said Sun's profits are much too dependent on selling SPARC and Solaris systems for the company to adopt the platform-agnostic approach of its competitors. He predicted that Forté will likely be fully integrated into Sun - complete with the departure of top executives - in the same way that such events occurred at application server vendor Net Dynamics, which Sun acquired last summer. Meanwhile, he said, Sun will try to push Forté customers to Solaris.

Staying Put

Forté user Jim Krzeszowski, director of software development at Advanta Business Services Corp. in Voorhees, New Jersey, said his leasing application is deployed on a combination of Windows NT and IBM's AIX.

Although in favor of the acquisition, "We have no desire to migrate that to Sun Solaris," he said. "As long as Forté remains an autonomous organization, that shouldn't be a problem."

Unless customers such as Advanta would be alienated by Sun pushing Solaris, the company will probably try to convert its newly acquired customer base to its platform, said Tony Iams, an analyst at D. H. Brown Associates Inc. in Port Chester, New York. He said Sun's strength is its singular focus on its platform.

But analyst Robert G. Simko at International Technology Group in Los Altos, Calif., said Sun needs to learn from its rivals and embrace Windows NT. The Forté acquisition increases Sun's credibility for Windows NT, and NT is where the money is in the enterprise, he said.

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