Exclusive: Will Sun lose a shining software star?

Vice president Marco Boerries, one of the key players in Sun's evolving software strategy, is angling to leave the company. Nonetheless, Sun is pushing ahead with its plan to combat Microsoft .Net

A key player behind Sun Microsystems' software strategy is poised to resign on the eve of the company's 5 February Web-services strategy launch.

Marco Boerries, Sun's vice president of Webtop and application software, has submitted his resignation, slated to become effective 26 January, according to several sources close to the company.

But Sun officials are trying to find a way to hold onto Boerries, the entrepreneur-turned-Sun executive, sources added.

Boerries did not return a call seeking comment by this story's deadline. A Sun spokesman also declined to comment.

The timing of Boerries' departure could not be much worse.

Sun is gearing up to unveil its battle plan for combating archrival Microsoft in the Web services arena.

The Sun-America Online joint venture iPlanet is expected to roll out new Webtop remote-access software, one of the elements upon which Sun is building its hosting infrastructure.

This infrastructure will form Sun's backbone over which service providers will deliver Web services, according to sources.

Besides being vice president and general manager of the Webtop software group, Boerries also oversees StarOffice and StarPortal, two other Sun software offerings expected to figure into the company's Web services initiative.

StarOffice is an open source desktop office suite that can be broken into components. StarPortal is a hosted version of StarOffice that is accessible remotely through any browser.

During the past year and a half, Boerries rose rapidly through the Sun ranks, emerging as Sun's unofficial open source ambassador.

At 16, following a stint as a German exchange student at a high school in Palo Alto, California, Boerries began developing word-processing software. He founded StarDivision shortly thereafter, then sold it to Sun for $73.5m in August 1999.

On 5 February, Sun is expected to position its Java-based iPlanet suite of software as the platform upon which developers can build "Smart Services" -- one of the brand names for Web services that Sun is kicking around -- said sources claiming to be familiar with the company's plans.

Sun is expected to contrast its "open" approach to Microsoft's Windows-centric .Net software-as-a-service initiative, which Microsoft first detailed last June.

As evidence of its openness, Sun will talk about Web services as interchangeable, almost plug-and-play-like applications comprised of multiple components from multiple vendors.

"Sun is positioning the iPlanet application server stack as a kind of operating system--one of several they will support," said Bowstreet president and chief executive Bob Crowley. "You'll be able to create EJBs [Enterprise Java Beans] and JSPs [Java Server Pages] in this environment. This will be where you build components."

Multiple Web services can be linked together in Sun's vision. In Sun parlance, collections of separate hosted services that are brought together from across the network are called "service grids".

Each service -- which could be anything from email to a stock feed, a word processor or a flight-information ticker -- can come from a different vendor.

At its Web services rollout, Sun is expected to tout several companies' building and hosting Web services that are based on the Webtop.

Web services vendor Bowstreet will be one of these partners, Bowstreet officials confirmed. Oracle's hosting unit is expected to participate as an infrastructure partner, as well, according to sources. Oracle officials did not respond to a request for confirmation by this story's deadline.

Sun officials declined to comment on any aspects of Sun's 5 February software strategy day.

One analyst noted that Sun faces a formidable challenge in presenting a coherent Web services plan to customers and developers.

Sun Research has developed a Web services toolkit, code-named Brazil, which could fill one such hole, if and when Sun delivers a commercial version of it. Sun officials have said Brazil is one element of the company's long-term Web services strategy.

"Sun has the pieces to put together a compelling Web services strategy," acknowledged Uttam Narsu, Giga Information Group senior industry analyst. "But right now, their products are like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces don't quite fit. There are lots of gaps in their lineup and it's too heavily Java-based."

Narsu noted that Sun hasn't been vocal enough in backing the evolving Web services standards, such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) transport mechanism.

And even though a former Sun employee is credited as being the father of the Extensible Markup Language (XML), Sun has become a "laggard" in backing the data-sharing protocol that is integral to the Web services model, Narsu added.

To date, "Sun has adopted a spritzer strategy for XML," Narsu said. "They spray a little here and a little there. They've ended up with a bit of a credibility gap on this front."

Additional reporting done by Deborah Gage, Sm@rt Partner.

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