Google-Sun bundle is not anticompetitive

Sun Microsystems says bundling Google Toolbar with Java Runtime will not "lock" users in, nor prevent them from using other toolbars.

Sun Microsystems has rejected notions that bundling the Google Toolbar with Java Runtime will be anticompetitive, especially since users will still have the option to install other toolbars such as Yahoo.

Sun and Google yesterday announced a multiyear collaboration which they said would spread and develop each other's software, and includes a deal where Google's Toolbar will be bundled with Sun's Java Runtime Environment (JRE).

During a teleconference with Asia-Pacific journalists, Curtis Sasaki, Sun's vice president of engineering for desktop solutions, said the Java and Google product bundle should not be likened to Microsoft's bundling of its Internet Explorer and Windows Player with Windows.

"There is a difference," Sasaki said. "This (bundling) in no way makes it impossible for the JRE user to use another toolbar. There are multiple toolbars available from other companies as well, and there's no lockout to what people actually load."

He explained that while the Google Toolbar will be a default install component, users can choose to unselect this option before downloading the JRE.

About Java Runtime Environment
The JRE encompasses the Java Virtual Machine, and various libraries and components that enable PC users to run applets and applications written in Sun's Java programming language.
A version of JRE was previously embedded in Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser, but this was removed following a long-drawn lawsuit between Sun and Microsoft. Sun however, inked an agreement with some PC vendors to ship their machines with Java.
According to Sun, the JRE for desktops clocks in over 20 million downloads a month. The Google Toobar is available in 34 international languages including Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Thai.

    "People want convenience. Consumers don't want to have to find things and load it themselves," he added. "So we've made it convenient for people to get JRE and Google Toolbar (together)."

    Engineering teams from both sides are now working to ensure the bundled install will work well, and Sun will start offering the new download within the next 30 days, Sasaki said.

    Although the Sun-Google alliance sent ripples through the industry, details are still so scant that some are left wondering what the two companies will bring to the table beyond the initial product bundling.

    There are hints, however, that some key initiatives are on the books including joint marketing and research and development activities, adding the Google search bar to Sun's open-source office suite, and help from Google in the distribution of OpenOffice.

    In his latest blog entry, Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz also described a future where "the rise of PC software" will move the software distribution model from one that is based on a physical network infrastructure, to one that runs on "network service platforms". Google also has ambitious plans to become a provider of network-based applications.

    Taking the Microsoft target
    But will the Sun-Google alliance displace software giant Microsoft, and bolster Google's footprint on the desktop front? For Microsoft at least, the answer is a resounding no.

    "Why will this make Google a better player on the desktop?" said Oliver Roll, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific general manager of marketing, in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia. "Lots of people use Google (on the desktop) already today. Ultimately, what customers care about is innovation and the value they can get out of a piece of software."

    "And I don't see any value from this matinee (of the Google-Sun announcement)." According to Roll, the details unveiled thus far point toward nothing more than "a distribution agreement" for software--Google search and JRE--that is already readily available today.

    "I'm not sure what the news is here. This is simply an announcement about software distribution." he said. "At the end of the day, you can get Google search very easily today, as you can with the JRE. There's really no announcement on what the value is (to customers) and where the innovation is."

    But both Microsoft and Sun do agree on one point: the latter's new partnership will have no bearing on its existing collaboration with Microsoft.

    Sasaki explained: "The Microsoft agreement is about interoperability…It's a very different type of agreement, and at a different level than what we're doing here with Google."

    Roll concurred: "We'll continue to cooperate with Sun in the areas that we do, and we'll continue to compete with Sun in the areas that we do."

    According to Sasaki, Sun's partnership with Google was six months in the making.

    "Forming a relationship is never easy, especially when you need commitment from both sides to deliver things," he said. "Once you've established the first step, it's easier to get the rest of the things out."

    He acknowledged that the only "concrete deliverable" now is the Google Toolbar and JRE bundle, but stressed that there is ongoing discussion between engineers from both camps on how to collaborate further. He added that the companies will make "a lot of announcements together" in the future.

    "There's a lot of possibilities here because (Google) has a large network infrastructure as well," Sasaki noted. "Today, we announced that we will put a bundle together, and they will point to (JRE) more easily for their users. We see opportunities to use and link their network infrastructure."

    He added that both companies have "a lot of clever ideas" about potential collaboration in the open-source realm, but he was "not at liberty" to announce any details now.

    Google has been supportive of open source, he added. "These are the kinds of things both companies support. So we'll make announcements when we're both ready."