Sun/Microsoft accord draws cautious optimism from users

Users were guarded but hopeful about Sun Microsystems' decision to settle its long-running legal battle with Microsoft.

Users were guarded but hopeful about Sun Microsystems' decision to settle its long-running legal battle with Microsoft.

The announcement was a stunning turnabout for Sun chief executive officer McNealy, who initiated the talks with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to end corporate hostilities.

McNealy said in the end that he had heard from too many customers who told him pointedly to "cut the rhetoric, Scott, and go get interoperable". 

But many users want to know more about how Sun and Microsoft will improve integration of their server, database, directory, identity management and other products. 

"It's good that there is going to be an era of co-operation, but what does it really mean to people?" said Satish Ajmani, chief information officer of the County of Santa Clara government in California.

"What are they going to deliver that's different from what we have today, and will it result in an overall cost reduction for us?" 

"That's potentially interesting news, and I would be borderline happy," said Daniel Morreale, CIO at the North Bronx Healthcare Network in New York. But first, he said, "I want to see something concrete and real happen." 

If the announcement lives up to its claims, Morreale said, it might improve information-sharing between his Sun and Windows environments. "Long term, it should make my life a little easier, and certainly my systems administrators' lives a little easier."  

Sun's decision to end the dispute with Microsoft is the latest in a series of moves the company has taken to broaden its reach beyond its Unix system. The company has strengthened its x86 low-end server line, embraced Linux and adopted the Opteron processor from Advanced Micro Devices. 

"When things aren't going well, you have to look for ways to make changes," said Tom Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group. 

For users, one cost savings may come from ending the dispute over Microsoft's use of the Java Virtual Machine. Microsoft had been planning to end support of its JVM in September as part of an earlier settlement, and users would have faced the cost of switching to Sun's JVM. 

Under Friday's agreement, the companies will share communications protocols, set Windows certifications for Sun servers and improve technical integration between Java and .net. 

For customers who found themselves in the middle of the Sun/Microsoft battle, the settlement and technical information-sharing agreements have the potential of making it "easier for organisations that have both Windows and Solaris to build co-operative computing solutions," said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at market research company IDC. 

Gartner analyst George Weiss said the agreement may help Sun executives get past the view among some users that Solaris is "the central focus of all their major strategies". 

"It's really the development environment that is crucial," said Weiss. "The users want the cheapest hardware." 

Patrick Thibodeau and Todd R Weiss writes for Computerworld

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