Sun sees Windows

Is this the end of Sun’s 100-year war on Microsoft? With Microsoft facing its own set of growth challenges inherent in its still highly successful but maturing lines of OS and desktop software, Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer must be relieved that Sun CEO Scott McNealy has decided to go a little easier on them. Sun now plans to certify its x86 products to run Windows.

Just this week, Larry Singer, Sun’s senior vice president of global market strategy, said Sun’s getting off its religious crusade, and going to sell people what they want to buy by certifying Windows. Sun will also “retro-certify” its Xeon-based Fire V60 and V65 systems. “If we have the fastest, best value, two-way Xeon processor out there, then why shouldn’t we make it available to people, whatever operating system they want to run?” Singer added.

It seems like only yesterday that Sun was spruiking its “cheaper and more secure” Linux/StarOffice desktop under the guise of Project Madhatter. Just last August, Peder Ulander, director of marketing for desktop software at Sun, said he was amazed at how many corporate desktops were still running OS/2, Windows 95 or Windows 98, or even old NT stuff, adding that there just hasn’t been enough significant improvement on the desktop to warrant upgrades. Admittedly, the ‘ditch Windows’ pitch was only one of many recent Sun pronouncements, but it has grabbed attention as IT managers tire of paying licence fees for desktops well beyond needs.

Core to Sun’s religious wars was an unswerving faith in the superiority of Sparc microprocessors and a fear of commodity priced Intel product. Besides, McNealy has always had heaps of fun bagging rivals.

Things changed post dotcom crash, when Sun slipped from being the dot in dotcom, to a company widely tipped as having no future. Poor financial results flowed as a business built on UltraSparc chips and the Solaris operating system was squeezed from above and below. Still, only last February McNealy was insisting the company was on an all-time high, planning for the next 20 years and that Sun would not follow rivals like HP and IBM in embracing a business model that includes focusing on services and Microsoft software.

Come May 2003 and Sun admits that perhaps the low end of the server market really does matter as it rolls out two low-cost Intel-based boxes (years after rivals). Along with the new low-cost rack-optimised Intel-based servers was a partnership with Linux vendor Red Hat and an expanded relationship with Oracle to support Oracle products on Sparc, x86 and Linux systems.

Always buzzing around all this mundane hardware/operating system talk was the ‘next generation data centre” spruiking of the N1 platform, and releases about the impending 12-part Orion software stack, a bundle of Solaris with software including the Sun Cluster Server, Message Queue Enterprise Edition, Instant Messaging, Calendar Server, and Identity Server, Directory Server and Web Server.

Come September, and Sun co-founder and chief scientist Bill Joy is leaving the company after more than 20 years. Joy was the leading designer of some of Sun’s key technologies, including Solaris software, Sparc microprocessors, Java technology, and the Berkeley version of the Unix operating system. Come November Comdex in Las Vegas and McNealy is fleshing out Sun’s plans to release a server based on AMD’s 64-bit Opteron chip during 2004.

After religious wars, there’s money. Sun has surprised itself, with both services and the low-end x86-based product line bright spots in latest results, and a better than expected net loss of $US125 million for the second quarter of fiscal 2004. Perhaps as the old guard is bowing out or bowing to market reality, Sun will come to more closely resemble its traditional do-a-bit-of-everything rivals HP and IBM.

The Windows, Linux, AMD and Intel squeeze on Solaris and Sparc has now moved in-house.