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Java desktop wins over major bank

Deal with Allied Irish Bank gives Sun seal of approval from a big private client for its version of desktop Linux.

Sun Microsystems finally received the seal of approval it has been seeking from a large private sector client for its Java Desktop System, with the announcement Tuesday that the Allied Irish Bank is migrating 7,500 users to the software.

The bank's offices in Ireland, Northern Ireland and mainland Britain will move to JDS during 2005 as part of a wider move to a new branch banking platform. The bank said in a statement that it chose JDS, the server maker's version of Linux for desktop computers, because of its "integrated environment based on open-source components and industry standards."

Over the past 12 months, numerous European public bodies, including the City of Munich, have pledged support for open-source desktop software. But the AIB is one of the largest private companies to adopt it.

"There is lots of activity, as the world is now very excited about alternative open-source-based desktops," Sun CEO Scott McNealy told an audience on Tuesday during a keynote speech at the JavaOne conference in San Francisco.

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Desktop Linux needs the endorsement of a high-profile financial institution such as AIB, a situation that gives that kind of large customer a very strong negotiating position.

Earlier this year, Robin Wilton--Sun's program manager for JDS in Europe, the Middle East and Africa--alluded to a "hard bargain" that an unnamed bank had negotiated with the software maker over a JDS deployment. Wilton's comments, made during a speech at the Linux User and Developer Expo 2004, made it pretty clear that Sun had found the potential bank customer hard to make a deal with.

"I hope they won't be a template for future customers," Wilton said. "Boy, have they put pressure on us for a good price. If all companies are like this, it really will be earning a fiver the hard way."

Wilton said the bank's JDS installation would replace a Microsoft Windows 3.1 suite that the bank was writing off over 10 to 15 years--another indication of the institution's thrifty approach to information technology.

He also hinted that the unnamed bank had stipulated that some of the functionality that Sun has included in JDS to compete with the likes of Windows should be removed, a process Wilton described as "deintegration." "They want us to rip out the instant-messenger client, for example, so they're left with a robust core that needs minimal maintenance," he said.

Sun recently secured a deal with the Chinese government that could see hundreds of millions of PCs running desktop Java, but McNealy has said that this deal won't be a big money-spinner for the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company.

McNealy told an audience at a Sun European user event in Berlin last December that the agreement was a strategic play that stopped Microsoft dominating the lucrative Chinese market.

Andrew Donoghue of ZDNet UK reported from London. CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.