Sun offers peek at its portal play

Sun Microsystems Inc. and emerging Web services outfit Altio Inc. today revealed details of a partnership to further develop a presentation-layer platform architecture that combines both Java and XML (Extensible Markup Language).

In a telling sign of Sun’s vision to see the portal become the single user interface for application deployment in the enterprise, the Santa Clara, California-based company has thrown its support behind Boston-based Altio’s AltioLive product.

On display here at Forrester Research Inc.’s conference, titled, “Web services: The Next Technology Strategy,” AltioLive is server-based software platform that delivers an intuitive application presentation and development environment to the browser.

Running in the J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) environment, the platform allows drag-and-drop style application building that simplifies the process of developing and deploying typical enterprise applications in a browser using standards-based connectors and XML services.

Although Altio is yet to reveal more details of its development road map with Sun, a company spokesperson indicated the partnership reflects both companies’ desire to create a compelling application experience in the browser.

“Sun knows what XML can do for Java,” said Melissa Bane, director of corporate marketing at Altio. “Sun looked at our technology and said, ‘You are more XML than you are Java.'”

For Sun, it’s an important part of what company Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopoulos described during his keynote here as the ultimate evolution of platform design.

Papadopoulos showed a slide that depicts the transition from the old client/server computing model to a world where two separate stacks, Web applications and Web services, are integrated using XML. And XML in turn is supported by Web services standards such as UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) to manage users’ context and identity.

“Developers are moving up the stack now,” he said, explaining that developers are now building tools to create a new Web-based application layer that separates the management of business logic from application logic and presentation.

Charles Rutstein, research director at Forrester in Cambridge, Massachusetts, agreed that the example offered by Sun and Altio signals a challenge to the existing status quo of Windows-based application development and deployment. “The only challenge is how to get there,” he said.

But Rutstein said this development model is currently polarized by the server-based paradigm pushed by platform players such as Altio and New York-based Droplets, and the front-end application driven model offered by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Curl.

Formed by Tim Berners-Lee and the late Michael Dertouzos, director of MIT’s Computer Science department, Curl allows developers to create portal-type interfaces for aggregating data, relying on the client for processing power.

“We are a PC presentation layer,” said James Joly, Curl’s product manager, who was also offering product demonstrations at the show.

The developments tap into Sun’s broader agenda to see the portal define the new user interface paradigm.

Speaking at a recent editor’s day for InfoWorld, John Fanelli, Sun’s director of product marketing, said, “The portal should act as the e-business hub.”

Looking to leverage the iPlanet application server environment, Fanelli said Sun believes that the portal is the best channel for delivering different Web services, rather than the existing Windows-based environment.

“I think this is the next piece of the developer environment,” he said.

Sun Microsystems of Canada in Markham, Ont., is at