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Sun Comes Out Slinging With Web Services Strategy

Sun Microsystems unveiled its much-hyped Web services strategy Monday evening, culminating in a host of new and updated applications that integrate into what the company calls the Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE), and vaulting the Palo Alto-based hardware and software giant into the arena with IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and, perhaps most vehemently, Microsoft.

Coming less than two weeks after Microsoft agreed to pay $20 million to end a legal battle with Sun over alleged Windows-favoring alterations on Sun's Java programming language, it was no coincidence that CEO Scott McNealy spent a good portion of his time at the unveiling stressing that Sun ONE was not a response to Microsoft's .NET initiative.

There is clearly no love lost between the two companies.

"This isn't in response to 'Not Yet'...er, I mean 'Dot NET'," said McNealy, poking fun at Microsoft's development and runtime environment. "We've been doing Web services since the beginning. Our name is 'Microsystems.' That means we do network systems."

And what Sun does now, or at least is trying to do, is take its network of existing technologies to create what McNealy calls "Smart Services": networks where every component is interconnected by open Web-adopted protocols. The advantage in principle from this strategy is that developers and enterprises will be able to easily customize their entire infrastructure using different technologies that seamlessly snap into the framework.

The advantage in practice won't be known until Sun releases the complete first version of Smart Services, slated for release at the end of this year.

"If you pick Microsoft Exchange Server, then you're stuck with SQL (Microsoft's programming language)," says McNealy. "You pick one and you get all the others. We don't want to force people to do that."

Representatives from Microsoft did not return SiliconValley.internet.com's requests for comment on Sun ONE by press time, but an emailed statement received by Reuters characterized the company as simply trying to pattern itself off the software giant.

''How is this announcement not a belated and vaporous response to Microsoft .NET?" asked the spokesperson.

Whether that's true or not, Sun is either shipping or intending to ship a number of applications that tout an end-to-end infrastructure for developing open, smart, Web services, all of which results in direct competition with .NET. Mark Tolliver, Executive VP at iPlanet (Sun's eBusiness software play, stemming from an alliance with America Online), debuted new versions of Forte, iPlanet's Server line (Directory, Portal, Application and Web), and its Communication and Commerce Portfolio, as well as a new productivity product called Webtop, which allows users to post (and edit) personal productivity applications over the Web.

"We're also deploying over 3,500 consultants to help our clients with ONE," adds Tolliver. "And all of this, of course, will be Solaris-powered."

Regardless of who wins over the developing Web services market, Greg Papadopoulos, CTO at Sun, says the industry is undoubtedly heading towards what he calls an Internet of "things." By that he means the extension of the network to include items not normally associated with "computer-like" technology.

"I'm talking about doorknobs that know when the hinges are rusting, cars that know when they need repair (and call the mechanic to setup an appointment) and paint that knows it needs an extra coat," says Papadopolous. "At Sun we understand the importance of adding a policy of context, one where services have the ability to change their behavior based on the user they are serving and the environment they are serving the user in."

That context, adds Papadopolous, w