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Wednesday, October 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

Sun, Google talk, tease about future

Seattle Times technology reporter

Techies held their breath when Google and Sun Microsystems invited reporters to a big announcement in Silicon Valley yesterday. For the software set, it seemed the equivalent of Angelina Jolie getting together with Brad Pitt.

But all the paparazzi got to see yesterday was mostly a public display of affection between two companies that were already kissing cousins — with suggestions, however, there's more to come.

Google and Sun announced they're expanding their relationship and working together on various technologies, including the Java software platform that Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt helped develop when he worked at Sun.

Sun will also distribute Google's desktop toolbar application with Java, Google will buy more Sun computers and both companies will work together supporting freely shared, open-source software.

Analysts had speculated the companies were going after Microsoft — the Jennifer Aniston in this triangle — with a plan to distribute Sun's StarOffice productivity software to consumers via Google. No plan for the competitor to Microsoft's Office emerged, but Schmidt hinted he's interested in exploring the boundaries of productivity software.

Instead, the news was geared mostly to software developers. Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy said the alliance will boost Java, which runs Web applications, and help Sun pitch its products to big Web sites. He's also hoping it will put Sun's name back on the technology industry's marquee.

"We were the dot in dot-com, if you remember, at one point in the olden days, and we want to take it back," he said, referring to a Sun ad campaign of the past. "What better way to make a statement than to partner with the leader of Web services here with Google."

It's a key time for Sun to woo software developers.

Microsoft unveiled flashy new programming tools last month, and it's trying to persuade developers to write programs to run on the wave of products it is releasing over the next year, including new versions of Windows and Office.

Microsoft is also preparing to launch its new programming toolkit. Sun just released a test version of its kit last week.

Sun and Microsoft seemed to have a growing relationship. McNealy toned down his trademark anti-Microsoft rhetoric after winning a $1.95 billion antitrust settlement from the company in 2004, and the companies are working together on some technologies.

But yesterday he ridiculed Microsoft's platform as passť. Asked about his strategy to compete with Microsoft, he said Windows is "the only remnant of the old client-server computing model."

"That's so last millennium. There are lots of choices out there," he said. "We are providing what to us feels like where the puck is going, not where the puck has been, in terms of a platform environment. That's what this is all about."

A Microsoft spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the announcements, and Microsoft tools chief Eric Rudder could not be reached for comment.

Java developer and commentator Rick Ross was expecting big news, perhaps even Google buying Sun altogether. Instead it seemed like a fairly common licensing deal to distribute Google's desktop toolbar with the Java runtime code that's shipped on most new computers and downloaded by people who want to use applications such as Yahoo! Games.

Sun is doing good things to expand its developer community, Ross said, but adding he thought the Google announcement was more like a celebrity appearance.

"Sun is in effect drafting off the cachet that Google's got," said Ross, publisher of the Javalobby newsletter in Cary, N.C.

Executives hinted that more is going on, but were coy about how far the relationship will go.

"Both of us want to have an element of surprise in terms of what we're going to ultimately deliver," Sun President Jonathan Schwartz said.

Wall Street, which ran up Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's stock yesterday 7 percent, seemed unimpressed. Sun closed up a penny, at $4.20, while Mountain View, Calif.-based Google was down $7.68 at $311. Microsoft stock was down 52 cents at $24.98.

"It was a lot of nothing, from what I could tell today," said analyst Drew Brosseau at S.G. Cowen in Boston. "It left a lot of open questions about what they really mean, because they didn't really say anything."

Goldman Sachs analyst Rick Sherlund told clients Microsoft stock could rebound after a frontal assault failed to materialize.

"This was not as bad as expected from a Microsoft perspective, but stay tuned, Google seems destined to cross paths more directly with MSFT down the road," he wrote.

Schmidt intimated that although Google isn't offering a product to compete directly with Microsoft's Office suite, the company may add more Officelike features to services it offers online.

Some users are already using more sophisticated e-mail programs to create documents, instead of word processors. As online services evolve, the boundaries are blurring between the services and software packages.

"We're not announcing anything along these lines," Schmidt said, "but it makes sense from my perspective that these boundaries become less obvious as the technology for Web services improves."

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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