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Sun Lights Up U.K. Servers, Desktops

Sun Microsystems has announced a major contract to supply its Java-based server and desktop software to the British government.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker said it has signed a five-year strategic agreement with the U.K. Office of Government Commerce (OGC) as part of a computer modernization program worth an estimated USD$4 billion (2.3 billion GBP). The deal makes Sun's Java Enterprise System and the Java Desktop System the underlying infrastructure and desktop software for Britain's public sector.

Currently available on the Solaris SPARC and Solaris x86 platforms, Java Enterprise System is scheduled to support Linux and other platforms within calendar year 2004. Formerly a mish mash of SunONE and other server-related applications, Sun has honed its Java Enterprise System to focus on shared network services through its Portal Server, Directory Server, Identity Server, Web Server, Messaging Server, Calendar Server, Instant Messaging, Application Server, Message Queue, Cluster and its own special brand of security.

Likewise, the Java Desktop System, which ships today, is a SUSE Linux-based platform that includes the StarOffice 7 word processor/spreadsheet/presentation platform; the Mozilla open source browser; Evolution e-mail client; RealNetworks' RealONE player and Macromedia Flash. The operating system also includes Looking Glass, a new visualization interface that lets users surf around in interactive 3D-like environments. One addition to the Desktop System is a management-wide tool. Known as APOC, Sun said the technology preview lets IT pros and system administrators to set up security and personal profiles for a wide bank of staff.

The announcement comes less than a month after Sun inked a landmark deal with the Chinese government to use the Java Desktop (formerly known as Mad Hatter) as the standard desktop in the People's Republic of China.

China's initial plans include installing at least 200 million copies of the open-standards-based software throughout the country, starting with 500,000 to 1 million seats per year.

Britain's deal allows the OGC, which is part of HM Treasury and the central purchasing body for the U.K. Government, to break away from its current licensing agreements. The contract includes use of 'proof of concept' trials in government organizations such as Britain's biggest employer, the National Health Service to look at the practicalities of Sun's server and desktop software and find the potential for improvements. The initial deployment could number some 800,000 PCs.

"The U.K. Public Sector is faced with huge IT purchasing decisions, it requires best value desktop and underlying software architecture that is based on open standards, predictable pricing models and infinite right to use," Sun chairman, president and CEO Scott McNealy said in a statement. "Our arrangement with the OGC, delivers transparent IT buying to the U.K. public sector and introduces competition in the desktop space."

Sun is hedging its bets that people are tiring of Microsoft's perpetual security problems and what Sun claims are "costly" licensing contracts. Company executives recently characterized the appetite outside U.S. for an alternative to Microsoft as "voracious".

While Sun's Java Enterprise System (formerly known as Project Orion) original pricing model included unlimited upgrades, service and support for a mere $100 per-employee/per year, during its SunNetwork 2003 Conference in Berlin last week, Sun said it would offer "half-off" discounts for its management, support, tools and servicing until June 2004. That would slash the price of its Java-based Enterprise offerings to $50 per employee and $25 per worker for the Java Desktop System if that company has already signed up for Sun's Java Enterprise System.

Sun also revised its billing methodology last week to accommodate the more diverse nature of its ISV and OEM customers. That pricing schedule harkens back to a more traditional $1,000 per CPU.

And while Sun is enticing corporations to replace their Microsoft Windows systems, company execs recently told internetnews.com that Sun is still considering a $10 to $20 per-citizen pricing model for the system.