Sun recasts StarPortal as Webtop

Sun Microsystems Inc. unveiled its much-anticipated set of Web-enabled productivity applications, called Webtop, during a Monday news conference here where the company unveiled what it aims to be its Internet services attack on rival vendors.

The Webtop 1.0 developer release arrives almost 18 months after Sun first announced its vision of anytime, anywhere productivity applications with the StarPortal project. During Monday's Sun Open Net Environment (ONE) launch, Sun executives casually mentioned the name switch to Webtop and made no mention of the project's lengthy delivery delay.

Over the past year and a half, Sun has emphasized that its customers want the Internet services. Last year, the company even vowed that an initial version of StarPortal would appear by mid-2000. With the launch of Sun ONE, however, it now appears that Sun is ready to couple its Web-ready productivity applications with various sets of software designed to ease the creation and delivery of business applications over the Internet.

Webtop gives users access to all of the productivity application mainstays like word processing and spreadsheet software. Unlike Microsoft Corp.'s Office suite, Sun's Webtop applications can be used over Internet browsers, Palm Inc. handhelds and Web-enabled cell phones.

Partners like France Télécom SA, which announced a deal with Sun on Monday, can also create customized user interfaces for re-branding a Webtop in the service provider's own style.

Sun released the developer 1.0 version of Webtop to select customers in December and plans to make the software publicly available in March. At this time, Webtop is only supported by Sun's Unix-based Solaris operating system.

"The next big thing for us is to support other platforms," said Gina Centoni, senior director for Sun's Web and applications business unit. The company will release Webtop versions compatible with the Linux OS in March and then support for Microsoft's Windows 2000 by the end of the third quarter. Sun will also deliver version 1.1 of Webtop with added offline support features by the fourth quarter, Centoni said.

"There is still work to be done," said Rick Schultz, group product manager of Sun's Webtop and applications business unit, in an interview. "With the 1.0 release next month, we will add improvement around Internet connection performance."

Although Sun is late in delivering Webtop, the company claims it still has a jump on rival Microsoft Corp. in the Web-ready applications space.

"(Microsoft) is about 12 to 18 months out from delivering something like this from the reports we have read," Centoni said. "We needed a sense of timing with the delivery of Webtop. We did not make an abundant amount of changes."

Sun has made the code for its StarOffice productivity applications open source and available for free download. The code appeared in October of last year on the Web site http://www.openoffice.org, which will act as a coordination point for development of the software. The site is being hosted by CollabNet Inc., an open-source services company founded by open-source pioneer Brian Behlendorf.

Sun Microsystems, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-960-1300 or http://www.sun.com/.

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