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Sun aims high and low

Sun works with Palm Computing and beefs up its high-powered server line--the two announcements underline the company's two-pronged strategy.

Sun Microsystems is aiming high and low with two announcements this week.

At the low end, Sun has made it easier for its customers to synchronize Java-enabled devices with calendar and address information stored on Palm Computing handheld devices like PalmPilots. Sun licensed Palm's HotSynch technology to make this possible.

And at the high end, Sun has melded its high-powered server line with its graphics cards to make a new type of workstation called Enterprise 3D. The system will allow users to gang together as many as eight of Sun's Elite3D graphics cards for faster display on a single screen. The Sun enterprise servers can use as many as 30 of Sun's UltraSparc chips and use Sun's Gigaplane technology for fast connections to devices like disk storage.

Sun is known for its high-end servers and workstations, but the company is ramping up its efforts to push into markets such as consumer electronics, where lots of products are shipped but the computing technology inside tends to be less obvious to users.

Among Sun's efforts is the creation of its Consumer and Embedded division and its strategy to propagate Java and related technology such as PersonalJava, EmbeddedJava, and Jini.

With the Palm technology licensing agreement, Sun will port the HotSync technology so it works on Java machines. By putting a Java virtual machine on a device, that device can run any Java programs, freeing developers from worries about compatibility with underlying hardware--at least in theory.

Last month, Sun executives pointed to handheld devices such as Palm Pilots as a great way to use Sun's "spontaneous networking" Jini software, which lets devices automatically connect to networks and announce what they can do.

But Sun isn't letting go of its more traditional sales base, either. The company has been striving to make its UltraSparc-based Unix workstations competitive with cheaper products using Intel chips and Microsoft Windows.