Open-source advocates applaud Sun/China deal

Sun Microsystems announced late Monday that it will provide China Standard Software (CSSC) with as many as 1 million seats per year of its Java Desktop System.

The Java Desktop system consists of the GNOME desktop environment, StarOffice applications, the Mozilla browser, Evolution mail and calendar software, Java 2 Standard Edition and a Linux operating system. The CSSC is a consortium of Chinese technology companies that executes government technology initiatives.

The agreement, which helped boost Sun's stock price by close to 2 percent Tuesday, is part of a worldwide, government-led trend toward open-source systems that has emerged in recent months. The European Union, India, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and other countries are either investigating open-source now or have already adopted policies to embrace it.

So far, however, those open-source efforts have held little sway with U.S. companies and federal, state or local governments.

Linux advocates believe the agreement will raise the visibility of alternative operating systems in the U.S., where the Linux desktop has made few inroads.

Jeremy White, chairman of the Santa Clara-based Desktop Linux Consortium, said the China decision, as well as the growing use of open-source systems in other countries, will eventually influence businesses in this country. If a large bank in the U.K., for instance, were to switch to open-source software, a U.S. bank may well ask, "Why haven't we done that?" he said.

White also said he believes that open-source systems are attractive because they may be easier to tailor to local languages and cultural needs.

James Love, who heads Consumer Project on Technology in Washington, has been urging the federal government to demand open standards in government IT contracts. He called Sun's announcement a clear signal that governments are beginning to move to the concrete implementations of alternatives to Microsoft Corp. products.

"People are beginning to focus on the fact that once you crack the standards, you don't have a monopoly anymore," he said.

"This does raise the profile of people adopting alternative operative systems in large numbers," said Rob Enderle, a San Jose-based technology analyst. He called the China deal a very important win for Sun.

"They are making some really good moves suddenly," Enderle said.

Sun didn't disclose the price of the deal. It lists its system at US$100 per desktop user or $50 per seat for existing Java Enterprise users.

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