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Sun Deals Desktops Down Under

Sun Microsystems is slowly whittling away at Microsoft's dominance on the desktop.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker has inked a government contract with a the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) to replace Windows systems with Sun desktop products.

The partnership with the state's Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) includes the city of Sydney and is among the largest open standards-based software rollouts in the area, Sun said. Financial details were not disclosed.

Initially, Sun will install its StarOffice software in 1,500 desktops in 120 offices. The goal is to connect up to 3,000 users to the new system. Sun said its future plans include stocking the RTA's back-end infrastructure with its other software products including the Sun Java System Portal Server, Sun Java System Access Manager, Sun Java System Identity Manager and Sun Java System Directory Server Enterprise Edition software.

The partnership will also include installing some of Sun's x86 and SPARC servers including the Sun Fire V20z, V440 and V240.

"The RTA required an open standards-based system for its desktops and back-end infrastructure to cut its escalating software, maintenance and support costs," Greg Carvouni, CIO of the RTA said in a statement.

According to their estimates, the RTA said replacing its Microsoft offerings with Sun's hardware and software could save them as much as $1.5 million each year.

"We realize that more and more governments are looking for alternatives because they are frustrated with escalating IT costs and the increased proliferation of viruses and worms, which ultimately affect information security and worker productivity," Larry Singer, a senior vice president with Sun said in a statement.

And while Microsoft remains the master of desktop software, it's not the first time that plucky Sun has robbed the Redmond, Wash.-based giant of its market share.

Sun is especially good at making deals with governments and large entities. In less than a year, the company has won multi-million dollar deals from the People's Republic of China, the United India Insurance Company, the U.K.'s National Health System and Walmart.com . Sun will soon be distributing massive amounts of StarOffice through its recent contract with AOL. The Time Warner subsidiary and ISP chose Sun's desktop to power its new AOL Optimized PC. The $300 includes PC, printer, monitor and StarOffice software re-branded as AOL Office.

Beyond Sun, other open-source alternatives to Windows are becoming more prevalent on the desktop. The recent releases of GNOME 2.6x and KDE 3.3 are expected to help fuel development. OpenOffice.org alone reports more than 100,000 downloads of its software a week and has more than 35 million copies distributed. As for Linux on the desktop, market research firm IDC estimates the desktop Linux world will expand from 3.4 million clients worldwide in 2002 to more than 10 million by 2007.

"We expect Linux client growth to be led by emerging markets in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Central Europe," Al Gillen, a research director, System Software at market research firm IDC said. "Adoption will be less broad in well-established markets due to momentum of the installed base for both operating systems and the applications that are installed aboard those environments.

No matter if it's Linux or some other open source desktop environment, Sun said it is more than happy to help fuel the anti-Windows brigade.

"This landmark decision by the Australian government opens the door for other NSW agencies to consider alternatives from Sun Microsystems," Singer said.