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Sun Offers Free Application Server Software

In an attempt to fend off competition on multiple fronts, Sun Microsystems is hoping to fortify its position by giving away its applications server software for free.

With the so-called Web Services approach increasingly used in software integration, the application server has become a key part of Sun's vision for the future of computing. The application server software sits above the operating system, running custom applications that bridges data with other applications.

The Sun ONE Platform Edition will be fully integrated with Sun's Solaris9, and will also be available free of license fees as a download for Linux, Windows, HP-UX and AIX platforms. However, support will be available for a fee.

The new architecture, starting with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) Reference Implementation, means that Independent Software Vendors can port their applications first to the Sun ONE Application Server, and know they will then run on any J2EE application server with minimal or no porting required.

"The Appserver has become just like the Web server. There used to be a whole parade of Web server vendors and that didn't last for very long because that became a lowest common denominator," said Jonathan Schwartz, Executive Vice President, Software Group. "We believe that J2EE has achieveed the same level of proliferation and popularity in the marketplace. We are delivering for customers what they have been asking of us, which is lower the cost and dramatically reduce the integration complexity."

According to Michele Rosen, a Web Services analyst at IDC, taking some of Sun's business resources off of the actual app server may allow the company to really focus on higher level functionality built on top of the application server.

"Last year HP made a similar move (to Sun), as well as a number of vendors in the second tier who significantly cut their price for the application server," said Rosen. "I think that the fact that now one of the leaders in the past few years has now joined that move just reemphasizes the inability for any vendor to really compete on base functionality."

The company plans to make additional money on this venture through add-on modules, as well as through the sale of standard and enterprise versions of the software.

While Sun struggles in an app server market that's dominated by BEA Systems and IBM, its Sun Open Network Environment also is battling Microsoft, which hopes to lure developers away from Sun's J2EE platform to its proprietary .NET platform. .NET executables don't use the same Common Language Runtime (CLR) that is inherit in Java-based platforms.

"Anything a Java vendor can do to make it easier for a customer to deploy Java-based applications is going to make it easier for the Java community as a whole to continue to attract users at the expense of Microsoft," said Rosen.

The company also announced the Sun ONE Developer Platform, a deployment-ready environment that accelerates the creation, assembly and deployment of Java Web services, providing developers with an extensive view into the entire development process.

This allows developers to build integrated Web services applications through a coordinated effort among different developer types. The integrated development and test platform includes tools built on Sun ONE Studio 4.0 and Sun ONE Application, Portal, Identity, Registry and Integration server software.

"Development communities have become increasingly fragmented, creating a need for a single development environment that exposes all the interfaces required for software creation from the desktop to the back-end," said Rikki Kirzner, research director at IDC. "An integrated developer environment provides developers of all types with the ability to build integrated Web services applications more efficiently and to collaborate across the development team, thereby lowering IT maintenance costs and decreasing time to market."

Sun is also adding additional new developer resources and user groups to further developer collaboration and support.