Sun expands the battle for Web services

Sun Microsystem announces a new software strategy that will open up a new round of battle over Web services, putting the company into direct competition with Microsoft as the developer platform of choice.

Sun Microsystems last week announced its Open Net Environment, a software strategy that plays up its Java and Internet integration capabilities. While the software contains few new elements, it maneuvers Sun into a more competitive stance versus Microsoft as a developer platform.

"This announcement may appear boring but it has real significance," said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research. "It marks the beginning of a new battle over Web services."

Sun said its Open Net Environment (ONE) approach allows developers to build "smart services" - software code that can recognize a customer visiting a Web site and interact with the customer in ways that match what he or she is trying to do, said Greg Popadopoulos, chief technology officer at Sun.

The growing ONE software set - which includes the Solaris operating system, iPlanet application and integration servers, as well as the Market Maker e-commerce applications and Webtop user interface - represents an integrated product set for developers, said Scott McNealy, chief executive of Sun.

Microsoft's .Net initiative, on the other hand, is "not integratable. It's welded shut," McNealy charged. While making the announcement, McNealy wore a baseball cap and sported a ponytail to resemble a software developer, but soon discarded both items.

Microsoft contested McNealy's statements, saying its new C Sharp language has been submitted to the European standards body, ECMA, from which Sun withdrew the specification for Java.

"The vast majority of the stuff they talked about is old stuff," said Barry Goffe, group manager of .Net enterprise and developer .Net technologies.

Both Sun and Microsoft are emphasizing the use of eXtensible Markup Language in their product lines. One of the additions to Sun's lineup was support for Small Object Access Protocol, a Microsoft-sponsored standard for XML-based instructions that can connect dissimilar computer systems. SOAP is under review as a standard by the World Wide Web Consortium. Also, Sun now supports Universal Description, Discovery and Integration, sponsored by Ariba, IBM and Microsoft, as a standard for an XML-based registry of online services.

Sun's ONE announcement came on the heels of Microsoft and Sun's settlement of their Java license legal dispute. Microsoft sent its license back to Sun's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, along with a $20 million settlement payment. And it then told the Java users in the Windows development community how they could migrate their code into Microsoft's .Net technologies.

Sun officials noted that Java's approach to moving code over the network restricted it from invading a user's hard drive and files. Microsoft's Goffe said Sun was "playing on people's fears" stemming from Windows vulnerabilities "four or five years ago." Windows 2000, particularly the Data Center version, is as secure as any Sun offering, he said.

But Sun was clearly shifting its appeal to developers to do more with its software set.