Sun licenses search software for desktop push

Data-harvesting tool promises to present internal or Internet content faster, prettier.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN FRANCISCO--As part of its push to boost Java on personal computers, Sun Microsystems has licensed software called Watson that's used to find and present information from the Internet.

Sun licensed the software from a small company in Alameda, Calif., called Karelia, which worked for years on a version of Watson for Apple computers. Sun has created a new version of the software--code-named Alameda--that runs on any Java-enabled computer, said Peder Ulander, senior director of marketing for Sun's Desktop Solutions Group.

Watson and Alameda--and Apple's very similar Sherlock software--harvest information from Internet sites such as Amazon.com, eBay, and Epicurious and present it in a customized interface that's faster than a regular Web browser. Ulander said Sun believes the software also could be useful for employees scouring internal networks--corporate data mining, in effect.

Sun's version of the software is in rough form, but the Santa Clara, Calif., server seller is showing it at its JavaOne trade show. Java is software that lets the same program run on different computers--for example, those using Linux, Windows and Mac OS X.

Sun has tried for years to establish Java as the preferred foundation for software on desktop computers, but hasn't made much progress pushing Microsoft Windows aside. Sun now hopes performance improvements with version 5.0 of Java, the release of some open-source components and security problems with Windows will give Java another chance.

Alameda could be useful in convincing people of Java's utility, polish and claimed speed boost. "The biggest thing to demonstrate (Java's usefulness on PCs) is an application people can use, download and judge for themselves. And this technology has the potential to be interesting to a wide audience," said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady.

Sun isn't the only company interested in using better search tools to make sense of the profusion of information computer users must grapple with. Microsoft and Apple are working on advanced search, while Google hopes to cement its search position through a $2.7 billion initial public offering.

Rent to own?
It appears likely Sun eventually will own the Watson technology outright.

For example, Karelia will support Watson through Oct. 5, the company said on its Web site. After that, the company said it hoped, Sun "will have announced a new product that Watson users should be able to migrate to....We have also discussed possible migration paths for existing Watson users, but nobody can promise anything at this time."

Sun didn't commit to specific plans for Alameda, but it is likely people will get to see more of it.

"If it's a Java application, it's likely it'll be available on Java.com," Sun's Web site for Java software from a variety of companies, said Ken Oestreich of Sun's software and Java strategy group. He declined to share schedule details.

According to an Alameda survey on Sun's Web site, the company is considering whether to offer a software developer kit that would let programmers develop "channels" that could be plugged into Alameda software.

Also at JavaOne, Sun is showing another Java application for desktop computers called the Collaboration and Communication Project. This software puts instant messaging, e-mail, calendars, telephony and file sharing under one interface.

News.com's Ina Fried contributed to this report.