Sun's JDS turns heads

There was the usual stuff about how the share price is on the up and up, the billions of dollars in the bank and the huge commitment to R&D spending. But what caught the eye at Sun presentations in New Zealand late last month were the products, and in particular the Java Desktop System (JDS).

At NZ$90 a head (until June) for an operating system and suite of desktop applications, JDS is causing large organisations to take a close look to see if compatibility and product completeness issues can be overcome.

Fonterra and the University of Auckland, each with thousands of PCs, were at the Auckland event and took note of JDS’s potential to extract them from Microsoft licensing issues.

“JDS could save us a lot of money,” says a member of Fonterra’s architecture group, who added that following the presentation he and colleagues had discussed how it might be used.

“We have close to 10,000 desktops around the world.”

The chief issue would be compatibility with Fonterra’s fat client SAP implementation, says the source, who didn’t want to be named. SAP’s thin client is Linux-compatible, according to the source, but fat client compatibility is 18 months away.

The university’s interest is in Linux generally, says enterprise architecture manager Tim Chaffe, of the institution's IT services and support group.

“We’re keen on delivering services to students wherever they are without licensing worries,” Chaffe says. Under the institution’s existing Microsoft licence, students accessing Microsoft servers remotely need to be specifically licensed to do so, a complication Chaffe is eager to see removed.

The university is this year embarking on an evaluation of a range of Linux and open source options for getting around the issue, including JDS, Chaffe says. However, he doesn’t see the issue as one of Linux versus Microsoft, but in terms of choosing the appropriate platform for each situation.

For Fonterra, which last year signed a $590 million outsourcing agreement with EDS, Sun’s entry into the desktop Linux market is significant, since Sun and EDS are close partners.

“The fact that it is Sun that is behind JDS is important for us,” the Fonterra spokesman says.

Tony Snowden, operations and support manager at Auckland software house Sales Technologies, says a key missing feature from JDS is an equivalent of Microsoft’s Visio diagramming tool.

Snowden, who attended the Auckland presentation, says moving to open source software is an “ongoing consideration” for the company, despite it being a Microsoft partner.

The university’s Chaffe also notes the absence of a diagramming tool.

Sun’s regional head of sales, Michael May, says JDS as a Microsoft desktop replacement represents the company’s biggest opportunity.

“We’re offering competitive alternative products competing with IBM and Microsoft,” May says. He was responding to gentle questioning by TV3’s Carol Hirschfeld, who was MC at Sun’s Auckland presentation.

Chaffe, however, isn’t so easily convinced, saying Sun’s late Linux push is less persuasive than IBM’s Linux involvement.

“To tell the truth, IBM is the vendor whose support gives us the most reassurance.”

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