Sun answers Microsoft with

In a move that appears aimed squarely at Microsoft Corp.’s .Net Internet initiative, Sun Microsystems Inc. this month unveiled the Sun Open Net Environment (Sun ONE), which includes server software, development tools and other products for building Web-based e-commerce applications and services.

Sun Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy launched the initiative at a press conference here Monday afternoon. The effort embraces a series of new and existing software products, including offerings from iPlanet Commerce Solutions, a joint venture between Sun and America Online Inc., as well as services from Sun itself.

Large businesses and service providers will be able to take the tools and applications and use them as components to roll out their own Web-based services to customers and employees, Sun officials said. The effort fulfills an Internet strategy that has been underway at Sun for seven years, according to McNealy.

“Everything we have been doing are Net services,” McNealy said. “We have been doing this for a long time. It’s all we know how to do.”

The Sun ONE framework could be used to offer services, such as a restaurant or a shopping guide, based on a user’s situation, and then deliver the information to PCs, phones or handheld computers. The initiative includes Web services that will be provided by Sun that modify their behavior based on the identity of user, as well as his location, timing and level of access permission, the executives said.

Products highlighted here included the Sun ONE Webtop technology developer release 1.0, as well as updates to a slew of iPlanet server software products, which include iPlanet Directory, Web, Application, Portal, Commerce and Communications servers.

The Webtop technology helps service providers deliver productivity applications via a branded, customized Internet-based desktop that users will be able to access on any type of device, officials said. Sun also claimed the new technology changes Web browsers from “read only” to “read and write.”

The initiative appears to put Sun more into competition than ever with Microsoft, which announced its .Net plans in June last year. Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp. and others have unveiled comparable Internet software initiatives.

Like Sun’s, Microsoft’s initiative includes applications and tools for developing new types of productivity, scheduling and commerce services over the Web. Also like Sun, Microsoft’s plan includes some enabling services that will be provided by Microsoft itself. Sun’s effort will likely draw heavily on its Java programming language. Microsoft .Net uses a rival programming language also unveiled last year, C# (pronounced C sharp). Both efforts make heavy use of XML (extensible markup language).

Sun was among the first of the big IT vendors to promote the idea of network computing and Web-based services, but some observers have criticized it for being slow to bring its Web services strategy to market. Executives seemed at pains to emphasize that Sun has been focused on the Internet for longer than its rivals.

“We have more software developers now than hardware developers, this is not something we thought of a few months ago,” said Ed Zander, Sun’s president and chief operating officer.

Indeed, McNealy is even starting to dress like a software developer. Ever the showman, he took the stage in a baseball cap with a long, fake ponytail down his back. “Everyone’s asking me whether I’m into software,” he said. “Well, don’t I look like a software developer?”

Sun announced a number of partnerships to kick off its Sun ONE launch.

Qwest Communications International Inc. said it will choose Sun as the preferred provide of Unix-based hardware and software for its CyberCenter hosting facilities. Service provider Genuity Inc. will base its flagship Black Rocket tools for setting up Internet access, security and managed Web applications for customers on Sun’s Internet computing platform. In addition, Deutsche Bank will use iPlanet’s BillerXpert B2B Edition software as the foundation for a new bill presentment and payment service, called db-eBills.

Sun also introduced its Sun ONE Forte for Java software and Sun ONE iPlanet Process Manager products.

The iPlanet venture was formed in 1999 through a three-way deal between Sun, AOL and Netscape Communications Corp., which is now part of AOL, which in turn is part of Time Warner AOL Inc. iPlanet offers an application server as well as software for deploying e-commerce services and other applications.

Sun Microsystems, in Palo Alto, Calif., is on the Web at

– IDG News Service