Sun battles Windows with cheap Java Desktop

It hopes to make inroads on the enterprise desktop by slashing the price of its Java Desktop System, which is designed to replace Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office suite.

Munir Kotadia Special to CNET News
3 min read
Sun is hoping to increase the penetration of Linux on the enterprise desktop by slashing the price of its Java Desktop System, which is designed to replace Microsoft's Windows operating system and Office suite.

At the SunNetwork 2003 Conference in Berlin on Wednesday, Sun said it will provide management, support, tools and servicing at a 50 percent discount until the middle of 2004.

The Java Desktop System normally costs $100 per employee per year. If the customer already has the Java Enterprise System, the Desktop System normally costs $50 per employee per year.

The temporary discount means that both systems are available at half price until June 2004, which brings the price of the Java Desktop System down to $50, or $25 if the customer already has Java Enterprise. The discounted price for the Java Enterprise System is $50 per employee per year.

The Java Desktop System enables a user to connect to a Windows environment from an entirely Linux-based interface with Star Office and Ximian. The Java Enterprise System includes portal services, instant messaging, e-mail and a directory.

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Analysts say the company is hoping to use its recent customer wins in China to prove to potential customers in Europe and the United States that this is a serious, cost-effective alternative to Microsoft's Windows.

Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst at RedMonk, said Sun has a real chance of establishing Linux on the enterprise desktop with this package, not because of its functionality but because of its compatibility with a Microsoft environment combined with excellent value for money. "This is a very capable offering and does most of what companies want it to. But most importantly, it interoperates very well in Windows-based environments," he said.

O'Grady conceded that the Linux combination comes second to Microsoft in terms of features, but he said many of the features in Microsoft products go unused, anyway.

"With the desktop, Ximian and StarOffice, are they necessarily matching Microsoft feature for feature? No, they are not," he said. "But at the same time, the question needs to be asked: Do you really have to? And to us, the answer is no. Microsoft is the leader on a feature and functional basis, but not everybody is into feature function. When you look at the economics of the Sun deal, it makes sense."

At the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas last month, Sun's chief executive, Scott McNealy, revealed that Sun had signed a deal under which the China Standard Software Company (CSSC), which is a consortium of companies supported by the Chinese government, will use the Java Desktop System.

"We're going to immediately roll out the Java Desktop System to between a half million and a million desktops in 2004," McNealy said. "It makes us instantaneously the No. 1 Linux desktop player on the planet."

However, McNealy admitted, this is a strategic move designed to prevent Microsoft getting hold of and locking down the lucrative Chinese market: "We're not going to make a ton of money on the desktop software," he said.

O'Grady said the Chinese deal will play a vital role in helping companies build confidence in desktop Linux by proving that the platform is up to the job: "Sun can now point to this and show it being deployed on a wide scale to a lot of users. This deal says it is possible to deploy Linux on a large scale--it helps take away the fear of the unknown," he said.

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland and Silicon.com's Andy McCue contributed to this report.