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Sun Unveils Its Own Version of Web Services

Sun Microsystems Inc. is the latest company to announce its version of a Web services development platform. Company executives, however, left the impression that it was their idea all along.

Sun chairman and CEO Scott McNealy unveiled the framework Monday in San Francisco. The framework, known as Sun ONE (Open Net Environment), is not to be confused in any way with Microsoft’s .NET strategy, McNealy said. “We’re not responding [to .NET]. We’ve been doing network services ever since we started.”

McNealy described what he termed “Smart Services,” which he hopes to differentiate from Web services, the term that all other companies are using. Smart Services, he said, is an “integratable stack of software that allows you to create smart network services.” Those smart network services, however, sound precisely like the Web services being offered by everyone else.

Java will be the basis for Sun ONE, although XML will also play a prominent role. In fact, “Java and XML go hand in hand -- it’s the one-two punch for Web services,” commented Pat Sueltz, executive vice president of Sun's systems software group.

The iPlanet application server, coming out of the partnership between Sun, America Online and Netscape, will serve as the platform for Sun ONE development.

Sun ONE follows on the heels of similar Web services by Oracle, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the best-known, Microsoft’s .NET initiative. Although Sun is late to the game, it’s clear that it is potentially seen as a major threat: both Microsoft and IBM flooded the press with questions about Sun’s offering, and knocked Sun’s Web services vision.

IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky says they may have reason to be apprehensive. “Sun is one of the established vendors of system software and systems for Web-based environments. Anything Sun does could potentially become the standards in those environments,” Kusnetzky says.

Sun has always been known as a hardware-first company, begging the question of why they are getting involved in such a software-intensive undertaking. Sun president and COO Ed Zander says that Sun did not just discover software. “We’ve been doing software since the early 1980s," says Zander. "We’ve been gearing for this day for several years, and have spent probably $3 billion in software development to get where we are now. This isn’t something we thought about a few weeks or a few months ago.”

Kusnetzky says Sun needed to take this step. “They view software as a way to facilitate sales of hardware. I think they’re beginning to understand that we’re moving in the direction that most sophisticated hardware won’t move unless there’s sophisticated software to run on it. Sun understands that unless they work closely with [the development] community to develop standards they can work with, their position will erode. I don’t think it’s a world that you can focus on hardware only anymore.” - Keith Ward

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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