Microsoft-Sun stunner gets backing

Enthusiasm tinged with scepticism was the customer reaction to news last week of an end to hostilities between Sun and Microsoft.

Enthusiasm tinged with scepticism was the customer reaction to news last week of an end to hostilities between Sun and Microsoft.

As Sun’s Scott McNealy and Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer shook on a $US2 billion deal that settles all litigation between the companies, the CIO at Auckland’s Beca Carter Hollings & Ferner, Robin Johansen, had some advice for them.

“They should be counting their fingers to make sure they’re all still there.”

Greg Covey, business systems manager at Lumley General Insurance, is similarly cautious of the deal.

“It’s one thing for two senior executives to bury the hatchet but the huge concern for me is whether the two organisations can. The history of animosity remains with the troops,” Covey says.

Johansen, who describes himself as a “significant Microsoft customer”, says if the two companies’ products are brought together in a meaningful way, “it opens up possibilities”.

While Beca Carter has no particular interest in any Sun products, a reduction in the number of industry “standards” opens up customer choice.

Lumley General Insurance is in the opposite camp, “busy heading down the J2EE-Java path”.

However, Covey says he was doing so with some concern about the long-term availability of Java development skills, if Microsoft’s .Net platform came to dominate the landscape. With the Sun-Microsoft agreement promising a measure of interoperability between Java and .Net, that concern may be unnecessary.

The deal was largely an effort of McNealy and Ballmer, who effectively talked their way through it over a year of phone calls. Both Sun and Microsoft New Zealand say they were unaware a deal was being worked on.

Sun New Zealand head Rod Severn says the handing over by Microsoft of $US2 billion is a clear signal. “Microsoft was clearly in the wrong for past doings.”

He hasn’t met his counterpart at Microsoft, Ross Peat —“I’ve never had to nor had the opportunity to” — but says he’s “happy to do that now”.

How the two companies will make the switch from tough competitors to collaborators remains to be worked out, he says. According to Severn, the war has been confined to the desktop.

“The fight was based around the lack of innovation on the desktop. Microsoft didn’t need to innovate because it didn’t have competition.”

For all their new-found togetherness, he says competition between the two isn’t now extinguished.

Microsoft NZ marketing head Tony Ward says the most significant part of the agreement is the promise of interoperability between .Net and Java.

“Most medium-size customers have a pretty heterogeneous environment and want their systems to be able to work together.”

A more immediate outcome of the deal will be the extension to 2007 of Microsoft’s Windows Java Virtual Machine licence, which was due to run out in September and which would have caused customers to find an alternative. Microsoft will also provide Windows certification for Sun Xeon and Opteron servers, Ward says.

“But this doesn’t mean we won’t compete.”

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