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IBM backs Sun's Solaris, renews Java pact

Big Blue will create versions of its server software for Sun's operating system and will support Java for an additional 10 years.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems and IBM announced partnerships around Sun's Solaris operating system and its Java software on Monday, a sign that Sun is taking a less adversarial approach to relations with its computing industry rivals.

IBM has become a major ally in Sun's effort to expand its Solaris operating system to x86 chips such as Intel's Xeon by pledging to create versions of its Java software, database and other server software for the chip-OS combination. And Big Blue--one of the earliest Java partners--has extended its licensing agreement with Sun through 2016.

Jonathan Schwartz

The companies announced the alliances at Sun's JavaOne conference here.

"We have been working to reach out to those for whom our relationships have been strained," Sun President Jonathan Schwartz said in a keynote address. "We've got to send a clear message to the marketplace that says the Java community is vibrant, it's open, it's participative."

Big Blue will bring versions of its WebSphere Java software, DB2 database, Rational developer tools and Tivoli management tools to Solaris for x86. IBM already supports Solaris on computers with Sun's Sparc processors, but decided to create the x86 version based on customer demand, Steve Mills, a senior vice president in IBM's software group, said in a statement. IBM will support Sun's latest version 10 of Solaris for x86 and Sparc.

The Java partnership could extend even farther, Mills said in a videotaped statement. "I look forward to decades to come of Java continuing to be a key part of the technology infrastructure that powers the world's businesses."

The company that's hurt most by IBM's Java support is Microsoft, said RedMonk analyst James Governor. "Anything that divides the Java community is good for Microsoft. Java has been a thorn in their side for 10 years. Having IBM and Sun recommit is a thorn for another 10 years," he said.

The moves signal a measure of detente between Sun and IBM. The companies are fierce rivals when it comes to the powerful networked computers called servers, so it's not surprising IBM wasn't the first to sign up to support Sun's effort to spread its operating system more broadly from its own Sparc processors to x86 chips. But the companies buried at least one hatchet.

In 2004, Sun signed a partnership with an even more bitter rival, Microsoft. And on Friday, Sun inked a joint development deal with storage system rival EMC.

"We don't have any other enemies to do a deal with," quipped Chief Executive Scott McNealy in a meeting with reporters, though Schwartz quickly added, "I'm sure we'll find some."

The announcement came the same day that Sun released some of its Java server software as an open-source product. That's a request IBM has been making for years.

Schwartz said that releasing Sun's Java server software as open-source software is only a first step.

"This is one step forward as we continue to open-source all of Sun's software assets," Schwartz said. "It's good for business. It's also good for the world."

Many parts of Java, however, including the forthcoming "Mustang" version for desktop computers, remain covered by restrictive licenses.

Sun is working hard to bring Solaris--released as open-source project earlier in June--to x86 chips. The company sells servers with two or four Opteron processors from Advanced Micro Devices today and plans to release a new higher-end "Galaxy" line of systems later this year.

Sun has said Hewlett-Packard and IBM made strategic mistakes by not bringing their versions of Unix--HP-UX and AIX, respectively--to x86-based computers.

Most of Sun's AMD servers today use Linux. Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy said last week he expects Solaris, Microsoft Windows, and perhaps Red Hat Enterprise Linux to be the only major survivors in the server operating system market.

A decade of Java
Java is software that lets a program run on a variety of computing devices without it having to be changed for each one. It consists of a programming language, supporting software called class files, and a package called a Java virtual machine that translates Java instructions into ones a particular computer can understand.

Java was born as a technology for consumer electronics devices, but when it publicly debuted 10 years ago, it functioned chiefly as a mechanism to add fancy elements to Web pages.

Netscape and Microsoft gave Java a boost by licensing the technology. But Microsoft, concerned that people would program to Java rather than to Windows, sold programming tools that created Java that would only run on Windows computers, leading to a long-running legal battle only resolved in 2004 with a $1.95 billion payment to Sun.

As it turned out, Java has been more popular further away from Microsoft's desktop computing stronghold. It caught on first in a version for servers, called Enterprise Edition, and for gadgets such as cell phones in a version called Mobile Edition.

Sun long has faced control issues related to Java. Although many other companies share in its development, the company abandoned a plan to make Java a formal standard. Facing criticism from IBM and open-source fans, Sun began releasing significant pieces this week as open-source software through a project called GlassFish.

Sun plans to release Java under the same license that governs OpenSolaris: the Community Development and Distribution License.

"You will see us prefer to use the CDDL for many of the Java components," said John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice president of software. "We're not opposed to using the GPL or BSD (licenses), but we chose CDDL for a variety of reasons. We believe it's the most flexible and appropriate for allowing you, the developer community, to intermingle code. It also allows for patent protection and full indemnification."

Sun also made a more superficial change to Java on Monday. As expected, it dropped the "2" in its Java 2 Enterprise Edition, Standard Edition and Mobile Edition versions. Future versions of those products will be called Java EE, Java SE and Java ME, respectively.

Java SE 6, the version code-named Mustang and geared for desktop computers, is scheduled to arrive in the summer of 2006, Sun said. And Java SE 7, code-named Dolphin, is scheduled to arrive in early 2008.