Sun to support open source desktops

Sun Microsystems is moving into new territory and challenging Microsoft's desktop dominance with a strategy that introduces a...

Sun Microsystems is moving into new territory and challenging Microsoft's desktop dominance with a strategy that introduces a supported bundle of open source software, writes Eric Doyle.

The full package includes open source software for Windows or Linux that could be used as a replacement for Microsoft Office, including Outlook, the Exchange e-mail server user interface.

The key product will be Openoffice, which Sun has been selling as a supported package called Staroffice. The office suite has been criticised as lacking the e-mail and scheduling capabilities that Outlook brings to Microsoft's productivity suite. But, by integrating Ximian's Evolution, Sun claimed this gap has now been bridged. However, it emphasised that this has not been the only problem blocking the adoption of open source systems.

Mru Patel, business manager for Sun desktop solutions, said, "One of the main inhibitors to open source software is that support has not been cost-justifiable. We will offer a supported, fully integrated, secure desktop with single sign-on and Java Card support. Used with Linux, this solution will also extend the life of a PC by stopping the refresh madness that accompanies each major software release for the desktop."

Patel defined "refresh madness" as the rush to upgrade hardware specifications to cater for the requirements of new applications and operating systems releases. In the open source world, Linux is the key operating system, and it can be run on older, less-powerful systems, extending their useful life.

It will be a tall order for Sun to win desktop market share because it has a poor track record with desktop systems, and Microsoft's hold on this environment is formidable. Patel admitted this but added that the recent Microsoft licensing changes have highlighted the cost of furnishing the desktop.

The move is in line with Sun chief executive Scot McNeally's assertion that "the network is the computer" and puts browser access to applications at its heart.

Sun is also planning to offer the software bundle with a thin client which will dovetail with its recently announced LX50 Intel-based Linux server. Patel said the final decision on which thin client will be adopted by Sun will be made in the next few weeks.

Apart from saying that the system will show comparable cost-benefits to Staroffice, which costs about a tenth of the price of Microsoft Office, Sun declined to give a price for the bundle until closer to its release date early next year.

Sun's open source offering
  • Linux server operating systems offered as an alternative to Windows

  • Mozilla open source Web browser

  • Evolution from Ximian provides e-mail, calendar, contact and task list management

  • Gnome Windows-like desktop environment

  • OpenOffice office productivity suite sold by Sun as Staroffice

  • Wine allows Windows applications to run on native Linux by providing a translation layer between Linux and any Windows application.

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