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Sun, Microsoft in One-upsmanship Duel Over Web Services

They're at it again. Shades of the competitive Java wars are peeking through. This time, Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are duking it out this week over the nascent, but undoubtedly lucrative Web services market at the Sun Service on Demand Summit in Santa Clara, Calif. and the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, respectively.

Indeed, with .NET already well outlined for the world earlier this year, Palo Alto, Calif.'s Sun finally drew the curtain on its own strategy to help enterprises make better use of their assets by pulling together data that can be accessed by people to "provide information, data and applications to anyone, anytime, anywhere, on any device."

Just what can the concept of Web services do for the enterprise? Gartner Inc. believes quite a bit, eventually. The market research firm said that by 2005 Web services will drive a 30 percent increase in the efficiency of information technology development projects that use them aggressively for functionality inclusion.

Sun's Open Net Environment, or SunONE, was introduced Tuesday by President and Chief Operating Officer Ed Zander, who served as keynote for Sun's summit. In a bullish sales pitch, Zander opened up the keynote by calling for the business world to cast aside worries about the stock market to focus on "new products and new architectures that come from what customers are telling us they want and need."

He proceeded to describe the evolution of Sun's next-generation capabilities from such software as its leading Solaris and Java programs, noting several times that Sun's goal was to attack the value chain to help enterprises increase return-of-assets (ROA) for existing capital and bolster IT assets. Zander talked of challenges met and challenges still to come, including how to make them interoperable and get people to accept them.

But for all of the pomp, SunONE really comes down to improving Internet services while minimizing costs by eliminating the need to replace a business's operating environment. And while Zander and Co. introduced such features as the Sun ONE Starter Kit and the iPlanet Portal Server, which features collaborative instant messaging, Sun wants developers to embrace its open standards to facilitate the creation of more Web services that take advantage of SOAP and XML, as well as all of Sun's languages, tools and programs.

And there is numerous support -- about 25 systems integrators and independent service vendors and over 30 partners have pledged allegiance to the initiative.

Speaking confidently about SunONE and pointedly against Microsoft, Zander claimed: "No one else offers this approach. The options are clear -- an open, integratable solution as part of a complete end-to-end solution, such as Sun ONE, or face complexity and closed options, which in time will restrict your opportunities for growth and integration."

Redmond, Wash.'s Microsoft, after airing its XML-based Web services plan across the state, may beg to differ. It made perhaps the most important announcement about its Web services push yet; the company's hallowed code for the .NET Framework and Visual Studio .NET has been released to all conference attendees, a precursor to releasing .NET on a wide scale. Microsoft said the release effectively caps a beta period during which more than 2.5 million developers tested the upcoming product. Microsoft is also expected to announce business partner pricing for .NET My Services soon.

"Our mission is simple: enable developers to be at the forefront of the XML Web services revolution with powerful, productive tools that deliver business value fast," said Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, Chairman and Chief Software Architect. "Customers are demanding a software platform that not only delivers world-class client, server and service solutions, but also makes it easy for these solutions to work with each other and with existing investments. .NET delivers on these goals, breaking down the complexity of integration and helping developers use the power of XML Web services to solve business problems quickly and effectively."

Like Gartner, Jupiter Media Metrix, too, believes Web services will be a valuable driver for cutting internal applications costs. However, the research firm also believes successful, interoperable implementation is a ways off.

"Visions of companies dynamically 'discovering' and collaborating with suppliers and partners through Internet-facilitated interactions is still within reach but the most realistic opportunities for companies over the next 18-24 months is to use the Web services software for cutting costs," said David Schatsky, research director and senior analyst, Jupiter Media Metrix.