RealTime IT News

Challenges Ahead for .NET, Java Union

SAN FRANCISCO -- Now that Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have settled their legal battles, the companies say they are looking forward to a better relationship between .NET and Java.

As part of their $1.95 billion legal settlement, the two companies will allow certain intellectual property to be shared, starting with Windows Server and Windows Client, but will eventually include other important areas, including e-mail and database software.

But after so many years of playing in opposite sandboxes, there are some critical technical issues yet to be addressed. Think of it not as a marriage, but as serious dating, say the CEOs of both companies.

"We're not going to -- we shouldn't say 'never,' but there's no plans to merge C# with the Java language, or .NET with the Java Web Services architecture. But we are going to work hard to find ways -- in the appropriate manner," Sun CEO Scott McNealy said during a press conference here.

Both men pointed out that the 10-year agreement will be a boon for customers and for IT managers that have to deal with heterogeneous data centers.

"There's a level of interoperability, I think we both know people want,"Ballmer said. "I actually think with this agreement announced there will be more customer feedback that will help [Sun CTO] Greg [Papadopoulos] and Bill [Gates] shape exactly what else customers might want in terms of the way they target our .NET platform as well as Sun's Java platform."

The companies said engineers from Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft will now cooperate to allow identity information to be easily shared between Microsoft Active Directory and the Sun Java System Identity Server. While the two platforms have had a working ability to interoperate in the past, that's been mostly though reverse engineering by Sun.

"We've had to guess at the protocol, and so some features don't quite work, especially when it came to security and identity management," Sun Software CTO John Fowler told internetnews.com. "For example, some developers working with J2EE had to program to Tuxedo. With SIPs [session initiation protocol] especially, there were workarounds for authentication and security administration. Now we are working on removing some of these barriers."

While both sides said it was too early to speculate on which issues would be addressed first, Ballmer and McNealy both agreed that the teams will now seek guidance from customers to prioritize and figure out which company's IP will be the foundation and who will have to enter into a software license.

"We've never had any kind of patent regime between our two companies," Ballmer said. "We are both big developers of intellectual property. We both own lots of patents." He said it was impossible to create a technical collaboration framework without having a corresponding IP agreement so that both companies could be assured their IP would be protected, and the legal teams spent about as much time on that issue as it will take the technical teams to collaborate.

Daryl Plummer, group vice president for emerging tech and trends at Gartner, says his intuition says cross licensing on desktop and server technologies makes sense, although at the core, he expects C# and Java will remain separate.

"The differences between the .NET platform and J2EE are big enough that it still makes sense to have them both. Java and C# will continue to grow individually," Plummer told internetnews.com.

Sun has also agreed to sign a license for the Windows desktop operating system communications protocols under Microsoft's Communications Protocol Program, the result of Microsoft's anti-trust Settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Likewise, the companies have agreed that Microsoft may continue to provide product support for the Microsoft Java Virtual Machine that customers have deployed in Microsoft's products. This reverses a point of contention that was the basis for Sun's original 1997 lawsuit against Microsoft.

Sun and Microsoft say they will also certify Windows for Sun's lineup of Xeon servers and eventually its Opteron-based servers.

As for a buy-in by developers, Sun CTO Fowler said there are those camps that will not be pleased about Sun's collaboration with Microsoft. McNealy said he felt it would not cause a migration to alternative platforms like Linux, but rather draw more developers to the two companies' platforms.

"The fallout is, if customers like this, that's what attracts developers," McNealy said. "Developers want volume. And so, if this attracts more customers, it's going to attract more developers."

What has yet to be determined is how Sun will use the infusion of almost $2 billion in aid of its goal of getting back to profitability.