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Sun deal points to non-PC devices

The company acquires Chorus Systems, which specializes in telecommunications devices, and then creates a division for embedded devices.

Pursuing its plan to make Java the lingua franca of computing, Sun Microsystems today acquired a company that makes operating systems for telecommunications products and created a division to develop lightweight Java systems for non-PC devices.

The company purchased by Sun, Chorus Systems, specializes in operating systems for telecommunications products, which are among many items known as "embedded devices."

An embedded device is essentially anything with a microprocessor that is not a computer. The product roster seems to grow daily: cell phones, car engines, household appliances, coke machines, set-top boxes, and TVs are among the many devices that fall within the ambit of the definition.

With the explosion of the Internet, embedded devices are expected to become even more popular because the Net creates a path for controlling or upgrading these devices electronically, a process that previously might have required a screwdriver or soldering iron.

It is also a market given to chaos, according to Troy Toman, group marketing manager at SunSoft. Manufacturers currently devise their own applications and operating systems for different devices. While such individual development may improve device efficiency, it hampers easy network communication.

Sun's new division, called the Embedded Systems Software Group, will primarily seek to unify these platforms by creating software based in Java. The software and underlying hardware may be different for each device, but it will all be able to communicate as a result of Java.

"We don't think there's a one-size-fits-all," he said, adding that the division will likely promote several module technologies and operating systems. "This is a highly fragmented market."

The new division will initially focus on developing a version of the Java OS that incorporates technology from Chorus and release a technology road map within the next two months. The combined division will also continue to serve Chorus and Java OS customers. Toman further added that Sun will support all mainstream processor platforms.

Processor companies have been developing their own technology, which could eventually compete with Sun's. Intel continues to develop a low-level chip that will work with Windows CE, said sources. Advanced Micro Devices announced plans yesterday to make its own chips for embedded devices as well.

Chorus primarily works with telecommunications providers, including Nortel and Lucent Technologies.

The Chorus acquisition in many ways complements Sun's acquisition of Diba last month, said Toman. Diba specializes in designing the hardware for embedded devices; Chorus, by contrast, strengthens the software component for these client-side devices. Although the two divisions will work with each other, they will each be licensing their technologies to third parties.

Sun, he added, has perennially been weak on the sort of simple access technology that Chorus and Diba bring to the table. "What we haven't addressed in the past is the infrastructure of the web, the devices themselves," he said.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.