Sun, Google join forces on Java project

Google’s toolbar will be offered as an option on downloads of the Java runtime environment as part of a multi-year partnership formed with Sun Microsystems, the two firms announced Tuesday. 

In a press conference that was Webcast from the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., Sun and Google executives said they would also jointly promote the Java runtime environment (JRE), which is used to run Java-based programs on the desktop, as well as open source technologies such as the productivity suite. 

“What Netscape did for Java runtime, we believe the JRE can do for Google,” said Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy. “They both just super-charged and turbo-charged each other.”

Google will also become a major Sun customer through the partnership, McNealy added, hinting that the search giant may investment in more of Sun’s server equipment. That would mark a shift for Google, which has tended to favour low-cost, redundant server systems.

Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive and a Sun employee for 14 years, said the partnership would bring the company considerable reach. Google already uses Java “all over the place,” he said, while McNealy noted Google has been involved with a number of Java-related projects submitted through the Java Community Process, of which Sun is a steward, which governs the way Java standards evolve.

“The Google toolbar will be downloaded by tens of millions of people,” Schmidt said. “We’ll have a new set of users that will increase the demand for features for search and additional monetization of advertising.”

IDC Canada analyst David Senf said the partnership would align Sun with a keystone in the industry which could cascade into other organizations. Google will also benefit from exposure in JRE, he said.

“As we look towards Windows Vista, Office 12 and as Microsoft beefs up its offering around MSN, it’s important from a competitive standpoint that Google extend itself on the desktop,” he said, noting that Google has already managed to score an important place in Firefox, which has been taking market share away from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. “This kind of extends the metaphor outside of the browser into the rich client.”

Sun is trying to reposition itself as a leader in creating open standards-based network enivornments. While the company thrived during the late 1990s as demand for its servers and workstations skyrocketed, it has suffered declining revenue and has been slow to recover from the IT industry’s slump.

“We, a long time ago, were pretty hot,” he said. “We were the dot in dot-com, if you remember, in olden days, and we want to take it back.”

Schmidt praised Sun’s history of developing technologies that extended Unix and allowed the development of open, interoperable software platforms. At the time, Schmidt noted, Sun’s strategy was not popular within the enterprise.

“I work with a lot of young people now who think it’s always been like this,” he said. “It wasn’t even true five years ago, let alone 10 years ago, that you could do the things that you do now.” 

McNealy refused to discuss how the partnership would pit Sun against Microsoft, which paid the company US$700 million to settle an antitrust lawsuit related to Java. The two firms also formed a 10-year agreement to collaborate on interoperability between their various platforms, starting with identity management.

“I got hammered regularly until we managed that,” he said, adding the end of its legal disputes with the Redmond, Wash.-based firms have helped Sun get back on the short-lists of customer RFPs. “Let’s face it, Windows is everywhere. That’s a fact.” 

Schmidt also deflected questions about Google’s plans to compete with Microsoft, and dismissed speculation it would create a Web-based operating system with Sun. “We’re in the end-user search business,” he said.

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