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Sun’s McNealy talks soft on Microsoft, but tough on IBM

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a marked departure from traditional JavaOne keynotes, Sun Microsystems Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy told his audience on Tuesday that the recent easing of tensions between Sun and rival Microsoft is “for real” and important because Java and .NET are “the only two development communities that are growing.”

But signs of tensions appeared in a follow-up press conference at which McNealy asserted that its Java ally IBM wanted “to wrest control of Java.”

Noting that Sun has the “stewardship” for Java, McNealy painted an improving economic picture for his company in his keynote. “Are we going to make it?” he asked in his talk to the Java community gathered in the Moscone Center. “We’re not going anywhere,” he answered.

McNealy pointed to improving sales for Sun’s Sparc and Solaris products over the past three quarters and hinted at even better numbers in a few weeks when the company reports on the quarter that is ending June 30. He noted that Sun currently has $7.5 billion in the bank and holds the rights to important “intellectual property.”

Arguing that Java is in good hands with Sun, while acknowledging that some mistakes may have been made in the past, he said, “We have tried to be a benevolent steward.”

Part of that spirit of benevolence is the historic agreement on interoperability between Sun and Microsoft announced in April by McNealy and his golfing buddy Steve Ballmer, CEO of the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor.

With most application development being done either with Java or .NET, McNealy said it is important that interoperability issues be solved. He said Sun and Microsoft technologists are working hard to resolve single sign-on and other security issues that impact businesses and end users working with applications from those two worlds.

As for Sun’s relationship with IBM, McNealy told a press conference after his keynote that “we've worked together well and collectively for 10 years on Java.”

Asked about the current battles between Sun and IBM, including Sun’s refusal to join the IBM initiated but now independent Eclipse Foundation with its open-source Java IDE, McNealy returned to his traditionally opinionated form. “They have Java envy," he said of IBM. "They wish they had invented it. There's no question that we have a sales advantage because we can say we have James Gosling [the creator of the Java programming language and one of Sun's best known engineers].”

Alluding to IBM’s involvement in Eclipse and the open-source movement, he said of IBM, “I think they want to wrest control of Java.”

At the press conference, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s president and COO, said “we'd love to more effectively partner with IBM. We've been good partners in the past and we will be again.”

But Schwartz hinted that Big Blue may be having a problem maintaining market share for WebSphere, its J2EE server.

“I believe IBM has a problem,” he said. “Everywhere you look you see IBM loves Linux. Now Red Hat has an app server and [users have to start asking] 'Why WebSphere?'” [Ed Note: Last year, Red Hat joined the ObjectWeb Consortium and began work on the JOnAS J2EE open-source app server for Red Hat Enterprise Linux.]

Asked about the possibility of going the open-source route with Solaris, McNealy said, “most CIOs aren't for it. I haven't run into one customer that wants us to do it.”

About the Authors

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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