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Sun and Google Announce Collaboration

Sun Microsystems and Google announced an initiative Tuesday to further collaboration between the Java creator and the search engine Goliath.

But while the announcement was apparently intended to show solidarity in the face of Microsoft, it seemed to be more of a dog-and-pony show that was full of promises and short on details.

The most significant detail to emerge from the highly-touted press conference and Webcast live from Mountain View, Calif.’s Computer History Museum is that Sun will include the Google Toolbar as an option with its Java Runtime Environment (JRE) downloads.

Beyond that, the two companies plan a multi-year “strategic” collaboration to further promote and enhance Google’s offerings as well as Sun’s Java technologies, the OpenOffice.org productivity applications suite, and Sun’s OpenSolaris operating system efforts.

However, at least one analyst who had been pre-briefed on the announcement called it “a birthday present from Eric [Schmidt, Google’s CEO] to Scott [McNealy, Sun’s CEO]. Google clearly has enough visibility without Sun,” says Rob Enderle, principal analyst at research firm The Enderle Group. “They don’t need any help distributing the Google Toolbar.”

Indeed, Google has been likened by the press repeatedly in the past year or so as the latest candidate for the industry’s “Microsoft killer” status – a threat that is real enough that it has Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer citing Google as his most important competitor.

Sun has been in an increasingly tenuous position in the past few years as its traditional markets for Unix-driven big iron have begun to suffer under the growing popularity of commodity, networked servers. In recent years, many tasks that used to be the province of large-scale (read “extremely reliable, but proprietary, and therefore expensive”) computers built by Sun, IBM and HP, among others, have been subsumed by increasingly popular, less expensive, networked, x86-based servers.

This has had both positive and negative implications for Sun. Moving business critical workloads down to a less-expensive, commodity-driven platform has helped kick off sales of the company’s x86-based servers. At the same time, however, penetration of Linux into data centers, primarily as a cheap replacement for Sun’s proprietary Solaris Unix variant, prompted the company to release the source code to Solaris 10 to the open source community as OpenSolaris last January at least in part as an attempt to slow migrations off of its high-end hardware to less-expensive Linux-based hardware.

Meanwhile, Google has been recently in courts in both Washington and California with Microsoft over employee-poaching claims by the Redmond, Wash. software maker after the defection of Kai-Fu Lee, a former Microsoft vice president. Lee, a veteran computer researcher and executive, jumped ship for Google earlier this summer. The high-profile court case has only helped to build the industry buzz about the competitive fight between Microsoft and the current favorite contender.

Symbolically, then, Tuesday’s event naturally gained at least a tinge of the smoldering animosity between Sun and Microsoft that burned for years. In fact, McNealy made it clear whose favor he’s currying the most, during the question and answer session that followed the announcement, by describing Sun’s year and a half old strategic collaboration with Microsoft as “required by customers.”

Beyond that, the press conference had more of the flavor of a family reunion than of a strategic declaration of direction. Google head Schmidt, after all, previously worked for McNealy on Java, and later headed Microsoft networking competitor Novell. Both executives and the audience of press attendees repeatedly broke up in laughter during the presentations.

The event held “little of substance,” says Enderle. “It doesn’t materially help either company and, if the question is, Will the world be fundamentally different? . . . The answer is Not at all,” Enderle adds.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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