October 4, 2005 4:30 PM PDT

Google-Sun pact brainchild of Sun engineer

The landmark partnership Google and Sun Microsystems unveiled Tuesday wasn't the brainchild of top executives--it bubbled up from the rank and file of Sun's software engineering department.

Thorsten Laux, who was part of the StarOffice team that Sun acquired in 1999, was promoted to director of Java engineering on the desktop in February. Within a month in his new job, Laux had an idea: Why don't Sun and Google team up to spread each other's Web-based technologies to a larger community?

"In engineering, we all use Google Toolbar and Google Search," he said. "I thought doing a deal with (Google) would be good for our consumers and our developers."

Laux began immediately talking about the plan to his bosses, including Sun President Jonathan Schwartz and Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy, who he said were not hard to convince.

In addition to making the Google Toolbar an option with the Java Runtime Environment tool downloaded from Sun's Web site, Laux suggested that Google could purchase more Sun servers to add to the immense infrastructure that handles millions of Google Web searches a day.

Laux reached out to his old boss, Joerg Heilig, who had been a director of engineering for StarOffice at Sun and was hired by Google last year. Heilig is now an engineering director for Gmail. Heilig gave Laux the name of a Google Toolbar product manager to contact and on March 17, Laux sent an e-mail to that employee, whom he declined to name.

In no time, Google was on board and within six months, contracts were signed and the deal was done, he said.

"It was a fascinating kickoff to a new job," Laux said. "This will be a great distribution advantage for Google, and it will bring new opportunities to Java on the desktop."

Sun's Schwartz was quick to praise the bottom-up style of idea germination.

"Almost all good ideas at Sun come from leaf nodes of the organization; those are the people who are closest to reality and to opportunity," he said in an interview.

"We had an immediate response--'let's get together with Larry (Page, a Google co-founder), Sergey (Brin, the other co-founder) and Eric (Schmidt) and see if we can put two and two and get something more than four,'" Schwartz added.

Google Chief Executive Schmidt worked at Sun for 14 years.

The Google-Sun partnership contrasts sharply with the surprise deal Sun reached last year with Microsoft, its longtime competitor and legal foe. As part of the 10-year pact, Microsoft agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to the financially struggling Sun to settle antitrust and patent issues and the companies agreed to pay royalties to use each other's technology.

That agreement was handled in secret by top-level executives, who held clandestine meetings. One Sun worker, stopping by the office during the Fourth of July break in 2003, was stunned to see Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates walking down a hallway.

While customers pushed for better Microsoft and Sun cooperation, the Sun-Google deal reflects synergy between the two companies' Web-based technologies and open development platforms, their visions of a networked computer future, and the ties between former colleagues.

"This is a big deal. It's a fairly natural partnership; it shouldn't surprise people," McNealy said in a news conference. "We're working on bringing this network-is-the-computer, Net services environment."

McNealy predicted "there will be a lot of money flowing both ways if we do this thing right."

2 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Landmark Pact?
What is the author of this banality smoking?
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Directors are "Rank and File" at Sun?
Engineering Directors at Sun make upwards of $200k and have teams of 100+ people reporting to them. Most of them report to Vice Presidents or above. Equating these folks to "line level" engineers is sketchy, at best. A low level engineer wouldn't be allowed to "reach out" to another company and initiate discussions regarding a partnership.

Come on, this guy is a Director.

News.Com is slowly becoming the National Inquirer of tech news reporting. Restore the faith, guys...
Posted by The Harper (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.