Et tu? IBM, Sun kill JavaOS for business

Industry observers are surprised at the death of the Java operating system. It is no longer needed, says Sun.
Written by Deborah Gage, Contributor

IBM and Sun Microsystems have ceased development of the JavaOS for Business, the operating system that was supposed to ship on both companies' next-generation thin clients, ZDNN's sister publication Sm@rt Reseller has learned.

The move comes as many hardware vendors -- including Compaq Computer and Wyse Technologies -- and thin-client resellers begin to target the emerging Windows-based terminal market. Both IBM and Sun acknowledge they are planning separate Java computing launches next month and continue to compete fiercely on hardware. But now they will compete on software too.

While IBM and Sun continue to cooperate on Java development, they have scuttled plans for joint marketing of the JavaOS, joint software channel programs, and joint developer programs. Furthermore, Sun is in talks to acquire StarDivision, a German software company that fields a popular Microsoft Office competitor called StarOffice, and may make an announcement this month. Sun would not comment, and StarDivision did not return calls seeking comment.

Analysts say that Sun's interest in StarOffice makes sense. Sun has standardised on StarOffice internally and offers it free with Solaris 7 for non-commercial use. The suite has a Java front-end suitable for thin clients, and would give Sun an opportunity to co-opt Linux should it choose to do so. In addition, Sun could go head to head with Microsoft Office on Solaris on Intel, which Intel is pushing through its new Internet Service Provider channel and will likely use in its data hosting centres.

"An acquisition raises a lot of questions," says Amy Wohl, president of Wohl Associates. "Sun could be buying StarDivision with hopes of killing off the Linux suite, or going into the Linux business through the back door. They also would get an NT suite."

Sun's relationship with StarDivision goes back several years. Andreas Bechtolsheim, a Sun cofounder, invested in StarDivision, and Sun considered buying the company in the mid-1990s before deciding it had no expertise in selling office suites, according to one former SunSoft executive.

Ironically, around the same time IBM considered buying StarDivision and replacing Lotus SmartSuite with StarOffice. IBM liked StarOffice because it was cross-platform and object-oriented, but outcries from Lotus users and channel executives forced IBM to cancel its plans.

Meanwhile, analysts are stunned at the demise of the JavaOS for Business, which they say is a viable platform that has customers. "IBM has a lot of customers that have bought into it as a replacement for 3270 and 5250 terminals," says Anne Thomas, an analyst with The Patricia Seybold Group. "IBM really pushed the manageability. It was a really nice solution."

IBM would not comment on the status of Lotus eSuite, whose tools along with Sun's HotJava browser formed the desktop for JavaOS. Thomas said the entire package replaced Windows with a more interactive, Web-based environment that was as easy to manage as the old 3270 terminals.

IBM last spring repositioned eSuite as a set of browser-based components with a Lotus Domino backend. IBM partner SevenMountains Software, whose TaskForce software integrates with eSuite, made eSuite an option rather than a requirement due to lack of demand, says SevenMountains VP Arne Wilhelmsen.

IBM issued a statement on the JavaOS for Business saying it will support customers and OEMs during the transition to "industry supported platforms". A spokesman says improved performance of Java Virtual Machines, widespread adoption of Java, and the lack of an industry-standard Java browser make "other general purpose operating systems" viable for thin clients.

IBM did not address its relationship with Intel, which had agreed to optimise the JavaOS for Intel processors in return for IBM's support of Intel's Lean Client reference specification. An Intel spokesman says Intel continues to optimise Java for Intel architecture and work with customers on Lean Clients, although Intel's Lean Client business is declining as PC prices fall.

Sun, meanwhile, claims that the widespread adoption of "Internet standards" have made both the JavaOS for Business and the Lean Client/Network Computer spec unnecessary. "All of these relationships have served their purpose," says product line manager Lisa Carnochan. "We're making a lot of investments in the hardware and software required to bring the thin client to the marketplace, but software developers don't have to anything special anymore. Internet applications will run on thin clients."

Sun will transition customers away from the JavaOS for Business on a case-by-case basis, Carnochan says.

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