Sun, Apple ignite new desktop skirmish...

Sun Apple ignite new desktop skirmish... with Microsoft. While it’s doubtful that either company will be able to unseat Windows’ monopoly status in the PC market, you’ve got to admire their pluck. Sun Microsystems’ attack on Microsoft’s desktop fortress is called Project Mad Hatter and uses Linux combined with StarOffice and other open-source goodies.

Although most of the attention has been given to Sun’s embrace of Linux and open source, the real story is about hardware. John Loaicano, vice president of Sun’s operating platforms group, said: “The advantage of Linux is its low-cost hardware.”

Translated: Intel hardware will always be cheaper than UltraSparc systems. After all, Sun could have pushed Linux on its own microprocessor, since there are numerous versions running on it (see www.ultralinux.org), but Sun opted for Intel IA-32 chips. Sun’s Intel hardware story gets more interesting. According to Loaicano, Sun will stop its “Lucy-and-the-football approach with Solaris on x86.” While the effect of Solaris running on Intel hardware may not dent the Windows desktop monopoly, it may slow Linux’s incursion into Sun’s territory.

Apple Computer has long been the only serious alternative to Microsoft’s approach to the desktop. In large measure that’s because Macintosh has been the only other platform that can run the Microsoft Office Suite natively. It has also meant that Apple has been captive to Microsoft’s commitment to the Mac, which seems to be in constant jeopardy because Office for the Mac contributes so little to Redmond’s overflowing coffers. For years, Macs have come bundled with AppleWorks, a usable Office alternative, but the suite has lacked an equivalent to PowerPoint. This has left Mac-loving marketers without their essential tool, so many have switched to Windows. With the arrival of a package called Keynote, Apple has a solid alternative for those Mac lovers who want to create presentations. Keynote is fast and easy to use, but more important, it reads in and exports out PowerPoint files flawlessly. It’s so good, it may make Microsoft wonder why it needs to continue supporting the Mac.

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