April 6, 2004 1:27 PM PDT

Sun says Microsoft pact not a blow to standards

Despite a new window into Microsoft's proprietary technology, Sun Microsystems won't stop its call for open standards, executives and analysts say.


What's new:
Sun's recent legal settlement with Microsoft has given the server company a window into the software giant's proprietary technology, allowing Sun to make its programs more compatible with Microsoft's. But Sun says it will continue its call for open standards.

Bottom line:
Some think the settlement could tow Microsoft toward standards. Others, however, say Sun will no longer take the initiative against the giant in standards battles, a development that could especially hurt the open-source movement.

More stories on this topic

Sun has been one of the most vocal advocates of open standards, arguing that customers should be able to choose from technology from multiple suppliers and shouldn't have to fear getting locked in to any one company's technology. The rhetoric has been designed to undermine Microsoft, whose software has long been derided by Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy as a "welded-shut hair ball."

Friday's legal settlement, though, gives Sun a way to use the Microsoft technology necessary to let Sun's server and desktop software effectively interoperate with Microsoft's. The agreement basically provides a framework, whereby Sun can use royalty payments to pick its way into the Microsoft hair ball. The agreement rests squarely in the realm of intellectual-property exchange, not on open standards.

But McNealy insists Sun won't back down from its calls for openness. "It doesn't stop me from everything we do in making sure that those interfaces are open, multivendor and all the rest. It's just that when I need to interoperate with a Microsoft environment, I have a mechanism to try to make that happen," McNealy said in a Friday interview.

Indeed, some believe not only that Sun won't abandon its openness drive but also that the new pact could tow Microsoft toward standards.

Get Up to Speed on...
Web services
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

"You'll probably see more resolution of standards issues rather than these (different) camps setting up all the time," said Current Analysis analyst Shawn Willett, speaking of new Internet plumbing called Web services, for which Sun pushes Java and Microsoft pushes .Net.

Choke points and standards
Sun's push for open standards was a centerpiece of its 2002 antitrust suit against Microsoft, which sought more than $1 billion in damages. Sun asserted that "Microsoft-controlled choke points to Internet access" result from the combination of Windows and .Net.

Those allegations are now history. Under Friday's deal, Microsoft this quarter will pay Sun $700 million to resolve antitrust issues and $900 million to resolve patent issues. Microsoft will pay Sun $350 million to use Sun technology, with Sun paying an unspecified amount later, when it uses Microsoft technology.

But Sun recognizes that from a customer point of view, any widely used technology foundation, such as Windows, is in effect a standard, even though it wasn't set by a neutral committee.

"Open standards are the ideal. It would be wonderful if everybody would adopt them and adhere to them. But there are also other standards--called de facto standards--that often compete with open standards," said Jonathan Schwartz, McNealy's new chief operating officer and Sun's former software chief.

Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer believes that the Microsoft agreement "is not going to stop Sun from pushing open standards." It's more likely, he says, that Sun will use better Microsoft interoperability to reinforce its message of openness.

From identity to digital rights
Sun and Microsoft now have a way to work together to prevent schisms such as the fight over digital identity and authentication standards with Passport from Microsoft or Liberty, from Sun and several partners. Indeed, Schwartz said teams from the two companies have already begun cooperation on directory software that stores information for identity software.

Authentication and identity leads naturally to the more controversial realm of digital rights management, or DRM--encryption and authentication software that controls computer permission to take actions such as playing digital music or running specific programs.

DRM is central to privacy, piracy, security and other issues, and Schwartz said he hopes that Sun and Microsoft can now can work together in the area. That cooperation is significant, in light of Sun's work in recent years to create a Liberty sequel for DRM.

"I would like to believe we will have cooperation on a single standard" for DRM, Schwartz said. "I think we have interacted with a set of ethical, high-integrity, highly engaged, passionate Microsoft employees. There's finally...a foundation set that allows us to look across the table as partners, not litigants."

One group that benefits from open standards is open-source programmers, who can use them to more

Get Up to Speed on...
Open source
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

easily produce software that can substitute for proprietary programs. Open standards can diminish technical troubles and the fear of running afoul of intellectual-property assets.

Linux founder Linus Torvalds has opened the door to DRM in the heart of the open-source operating system. Whether DRM is a freely available standard or a closed corporate partnership greatly affects whether Linux will be able to dovetail with others' DRM efforts.

A step backward?
Sun in the past has been something of an ally to open source, for example helping to make the case against Microsoft that the World Wide Web Consortium should make its standards available royalty-free, said Bruce Perens, a prominent open-source advocate. But the Sun-Microsoft deal is a bad portent, when it comes to Sun's previous strength in fighting against Microsoft for the open-standards cause, he said.

"I believe Sun will not take the initiative against Microsoft in standards organizations from here on out," Perens said. "I think that's going to make it more difficult for open source in general and worse for the customer, because the customer will have less choice."

Sun deserves credit for keeping standards open but has kept too much control when it comes to Java, Perens said.

IBM, a major Java partner that helped Sun with many of the technology's key features, has urged Sun to make Java open-source software.

Sun not backing off the openness attack
Sun's Schwartz asserts that the company's Java Community Process--by which interested companies can influence the direction of Java--"embodies...the spirit of open standards" and counterattacks that the lack of standards in open-source software means that Linux seller Red Hat "violates" that spirit.

And Sun hasn't stopped using openness as a competitive jab against Microsoft in the example of directory software, where Sun pushes the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol standard in favor of Microsoft's Active Directory.

"I still think Microsoft has to grapple with open standards as well," Schwartz said. "Microsoft could wish LDAP would disappear, but it's still the most broadly deployed directory standard on the planet."

And Microsoft likely will provide fodder for Sun's openness battle. Despite the interoperability framework, Microsoft isn't likely to help Sun edge in on turf such as Microsoft Office file formats, Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said.

"No matter how happy the cooperative terms are, I don't think Microsoft is going to try to make it easy for Sun to steal their market share," Eunice said. "Microsoft has done wonderful work with Web services and XML, but Microsoft has a fundamental business imperative, which is that 'Everything you do, you have to come through us.'"


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Leading Microsoft by the nose when it's Sun's nose with the ring?
The terms and conditions of the settlement do not make any sense for Sun in the long term.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.linuxworld.com/story/44348.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.linuxworld.com/story/44348.htm</a>

Look at the actual terms and conditions of the settlement. Stephen Shankland, could you ask the Sun folks exactly how it going to be able to lead Microsoft into more "open pastures" when the actual terms and conditions put the ring though Sun's nose?
Posted by David Mohring (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sun's comments about openness
I find it rather comical and ironic that Sun Microsystems would make comments about how Microsoft needs to be more "open". In the IT shop I work in, we can purchase the EA volume licensing from Microsoft. They send us several hundreds of CD-ROMS (everything but video games in every possible language). Any PC or server that is based of the i386 architecture, we can install the media on. We only pay for the licenses we use.

The few Sun workstations and servers we have purchased do not come with any media on CD. Sun forces us to pay for a CD. Solaris install files are on a partition. If the Sun box is not configured properly then we need to shell out money for a media CD. We do not have this problem with any other UNIX vendors, just Sun.

Hardware is something you don't hear Sun talking about openness on. Consumers had to apply a lot of pressure just for them to continue developing Solaris for Intel. Sun as I have told the UNIX die hards at work is the "Microsoft of UNIX" (even though they are more apt to brand Red Hat with that title).

The point I am trying to make is that Sun tries to control everything (hardware, software and purchasing the media). I can buy a server running Microsoft Windows or even a PC from any number of server/PC vendors. And it comes with the media CD. If the hardware breaks, I have multiple choices for replacements or even to purchase upgrades. With Solaris boxes you are only stuck with dealing with Sun (unless you are lucky enough to have Solaris for Intel).

Sun's support contracts are difficult to negotiate and getting a tech out to swap out a bad hard drive or motherboard is darn near impossible. While FreeBSD, NetBSD, Linux, Microsoft Windows, AIX, Be OS and Novell have adopted the industry standard PS/2 port for keyboards and mice, Sun maintains their own standard. It is bad when our UNIX administrator needs a replacement keyboard for a Sun box and I have over 25 brand new PS/2 keyboards that are useless to him.

Video is another headache that Sun has introduced in our enviroment since we have to purchase specail "Sun" KVM adapters. Sun does not even bother adopting the industry standard VGA port for their video cards. And then our monitors are useless to the UNIX admins unless they have a special adapter (purchased through Sun) to convert a SVGA monitor (industry standard) to Sun's video card port (Sun's standard).

From both a hardware and software aspect, Sun Microsystems is a lot worse and monopolistic than Microsoft's practices because at least Microsoft is not trying to be the only company that you can buy hardware for.

The main reason Sun has picked a fight with Microsoft is because the NT Server started to bite into Sun's dominance of the server and high end market. Sun has made some pretty good developments to the computing industry, but those have mainly been software like Java and other web based technologies.

The arguements that Scott McNeily makes would have more credibility to me if they came from Linus Torvald because at least he is not running the most monopolistic computer company in the entire industry like Scott McNeily is.

Speaking of Linux, KDE desktop came from the Open Source's movement to port Sun's CDE (Common Desktop Enviroment) to Linux and other types of UNIX. If Sun wants to be a credable Open Source advocate, maybe they should make CDE an open source product as well as turning Java over to the IEEE to define and set standards for.

We are now replacing Sun Solaris servers with Dell Servers running Linux. At least we get better hardware support from Dell.

Bottom line, you can react emotionally with UNIX is better than Windows or vice versa, or you can just start questioning and thinking on your own.
Posted by RamaBrooks (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Sun is not nearly as bad as claimed
The price that that Sun charges for media is more then reasonable. In the media package, you get detailed installation documentation, release notes, etc. You also get CDs full of documentation in multiple languages, trial software, open source software, etc. With MS you only get the OS CD and nothing else. If you really don't like this, you can download ISO images for the OS CDs from Sun's website and burn them yourself (no waiting). Once you have one set of media, you can install it anywhere you have licences.

No major brand truely has openness in hardware. Just wait till you have to pay $400 to replace the power supply in a desktop machine made by Compaq. And, of course, if you want to upgrade the hardware, you will have to go back to the manufacturer. Sun is no worse than any other workstation manufacturers or high end PC manufacturer.

I can't say much about Sun support contracts. Never needed them, since I have found Sun hardware to be extremely reliable. I've only ever had problems with mechanical devices such as fans and hard drives. I can replace those myself for much less money then I would spend on any support contract. Also, I never buy hard drives from a computer manufacturer. They are all grossly overpriced. In general, you shouldn't buy accessories from a computer manufacturer (including RAM) unless you have money to burn.

OSes do not adopt hardware standards, hardware manufacturers do. Your comment about various OSes adopting the "PS/2 keyboard standard" is total nonsense; it is an apple and oranges comparison. Furthermore, the PS/2 keyboard port is not an industry standard. It is something that IBM invented for use with their PS/2 computer, hence the PS/2 part of the name. The rest of the PC industry has adopted it, but it is really just the PC AT keyboard (the only difference is the shape of the plug). On the other hand, modern Sun workstations (servers don't need dedicated keyboards) use USB keyboards, which is an industry standard. Do not mistake the PC industry for the entire computer industry.

VGA is not an industry standard, it is another thing that IBM invented for use with their PS/2 computers, which has been adopted by the rest of the PC industry. Again, do not mistake the PC industry for the entire computer industry. However, modern Suns do use VGA connectors for most of their video cards. Also, the 13W3 connector was used by a variety of workstation vendors, albeit with different pinouts. As for adaptors, you don't have to get them from Sun, you can get them from a variety of places (including various vendors on eBay for about $10). Besides, you don't need a KVM, just use a serial switch. Unlike most of the PC industry, Sun produces real servers.

The statement that Sun is a lot more monopolistic then Microsoft is total nonsense. Microsoft tries to sell you all the application software to use with their OS. Sun doesn't. Sun uses industry standard hardware interfaces such as USB and PCI. Its OS uses industry standard APIs such as POSIX and SUS, not proprietary ones like MS does.

You can run several OSes on Sun Sparc hardware including Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Solaris. Also, Sun made changes to the Sparc processor, so that it could run a "portable" OS known as Windows NT. Word is that a port was done in the lab, but that it never saw the light of day. In the end, when Windows 2000 came out, MS dropped support for everything except PCs.

Given that Windows NT started biting into workstation sales in general, not just Sun, it could be said that it was Microsoft that picked a fight with workstation vendors. However, that is neither here nor there.

Sun has given the computing industry a lot. Although, the Sparc processor has fallen behind, Sun's roadmap shows that they are planning on fixing that. Solaris is generally recognised as the best. It certainly beats the crap out of Linux (which by the way, isn't even an OS). They have created several technologies which are now standard in the UNIX industry, such as NFS, NIS, and PAM. This is in addition to stuff used in the entire computing industry such as Java.

Linus Torvalds is no better then Scott McNealy. He is a dictator in the Linux world. Your example would have been better using somebody from the BSD world, since both FreeBSD and NetBSD are democratic (Theo de Raat is a dictator in the OpenBSD camp).

CDE is not a Sun product, it comes from the Open Software Foundation, thus Sun doesn't have the right to make it open source. However, as of Solaris 9, Sun is using GNOME as its GUI. IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) as its name implies does hardware standards, not software standards.

As for replacing Sun Sparcs running Solaris with Dells running Linux, have fun with your proprietary hardware, which comes with its own horror stories. As I pointed out above, Linux isn't an OS. An OS in the Linux world is known as distribution. Many of which can be quite proprietary in the way they are administered.

The bottom line is that before you can think on your own, you need to get your facts straight. Thinking on your own, is a good thing. But you definitely have to do your research and get your facts straight, so you don't end up spouting complete nonsense.
Posted by jnemeth1 (1 comment )
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



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.