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Red Hat, Sun Spark Middleware Turf War

SAN FRANCISCO -- Red Hat and Sun Microsystems have been trading verbal barbs of late. But, using each other's strengths and strategies, they're preparing to duke it out in the middleware sector.

Red Hat announced Red Hat Application Server, its first Java-compatible server, at LinuxWorld Monday. The company said it would test the server to ensure interoperability with other J2EE application platforms from partners like BEA Systems , IBM and Oracle .

"We have decided to take a collaborative approach to software development and not to take an antagonistic stance," Red Hat's President and CEO Matthew Szulik said during the event.

While Red Hat has been preparing for the Java app server since last September, with the beta debuting this past December, some industry watchers suggest the software platform is not a replacement for Red Hat's bread and butter lineup.

"What this does is offer a department-level application server that is pretty bare-bones," Yankee Group Senior Analyst Dana Gardner told internetnews.com. "It is not a fully integrated deployment platform."

But instead of going directly to Sun for the Java code, Red Hat has gone to the French-owned ObjectWeb Open Source initiative for its JOnAS (Java Open Application Server) software. Red Hat's new app server also supports Axis from Apache; Tomcat in the form of JSPs and servlets; Jakarta Server Management using JMX; messaging; clustering; Intel's 32-bit Xeon it's Itanium processors; and IBM's Power PC chips.

Based on the J2EE specifications, the Application Server will put Red Hat in direct competition with JBoss, as well as step on a few middleware toes at Java-based application server leaders IBM, BEA Systems, Sun Microsystems and Oracle.

The Sun side of the brewing turf war is also heating up at LinuxWorld, with its preview of the inaugural Linux port of its Sun Ray Server Software 3.0.

The software now lets companies host Sun Ray thin clients running on Novell's SUSE Enterprise 8 or Red Hat Linux 3.0 servers. Previously, Sun Ray systems were only available on servers running the Solaris OS and SPARC semiconductors.

In addition to cross-platform support with Linux, other new Sun Ray features include: regional hot desking; bandwidth enhancements; expanded peripheral support; privacy mode; and LAN deployment capability.

"In terms of a product offering, the commitment is there," John Fanelli, Sun's director of business management and product marketing for Java System Network Identity, Communication and Portal Services, told internetnews.com. "From a middleware perspective, we have challenges ahead, but we are optimistic because of our value proposition. For example, iPlanet is moving into the current Sun Java Systems."

It was three years ago that Sun went public with its first low-cost Linux server -- the LX50, which has been discontinued. After shunning Red Hat back in the boom times, the company has spent considerable time and effort trying to convince the open source community of its assurance of hardware and software support for Linux. Sun's Linux-based desktop offerings are based on Red Hat.

"We haven't done a good enough job showing how we've delivered from an open source perspective and from a product perspective," Fanelli said. "But you would be hard pressed to find a company that supports open source on a hardware and software level.

However, that doesn't preclude Sun execs from taking a few pot shots at its competition. During last month's JavaOne show, Sun CEO Scott McNealy called for Red Hat to contribute more of its open source code to the community instead of profiting from it.