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Changes may sharpen Sun focus

The reorg may get Sun's disparate software stories together and create a sense that the systems giant is not just out to sell high-priced Unix computers.

Sun Microsystems' radical reorganization may go a long way toward getting the company's disparate software stories together and creating a sense that the systems giant is not just out to sell high-priced Unix computers, according to analysts.

The company announced a new structural approach yesterday, ridding Sun of separate operating companies, embracing a composition based on divisions, and unifying corporate strategy under recently promoted chief operating officer Ed Zander. Gone in name are JavaSoft and SunSoft, the two fiefdoms in Sun's software empire, replaced by divisions with similar responsibilities, but a different power structure.

The move away from individual operating companies may appease long-standing industry and customer fears that Sun's operating systems, network management, and development efforts are incongruous to the company's lectern-pounding on behalf of the Java programming language. It could also be a boon to the company's Java efforts, since previous inquiries concerning the language were channeled through one division and one man--Alan Baratz.

Sun serves as both a steward of the development of Java as a programming language and as a provider of software products based on it. But the company also gains the majority of its profits from expensive Unix-based computer systems, which only adds to the confusion.

JavaSoft was previously charged with overseeing the company's Java efforts. SunSoft took the Java language and incorporated it into products for network management and application development, among other things. Those two entities are now the Java software and Solaris software divisions within Sun.

"There really are no good examples of hardware companies that have become software companies," said Eric Brown, analyst with Forrester Research. "Sun's biggest public relations battle right now is convincing people that they are in the software business, and they're not just out to push boxes."

In contrast, Brown noted IBM's concise approach to Java as a programming tool and facilitator for products that unify the myriad of software projects at the sprawling computing company.

"Internally, Sun's various software efforts were extremely poorly organized," Brown said. "This was a great step forward."

While the move may go a long way toward unifying the company's approach to software and Java, it will do little to quell continuing concerns from allies and foes regarding the company's stewardship of the language.

But within Sun, the reorganization could give the company a boost. Sun executives have long chirped about the doors that Java has opened for them in corporate America.

"Having a JavaSoft division implied that if you wanted to talk about Java you went to that division," said Ron Rappaport, an industry analyst with Zona Research. "One of the incentives here that Sun understood is that it can now put its name across all of its products."

"If you looked at Sun a few years ago, you saw Sun Microsystems and its various planets, with the understanding that they would all feed their profits to the mothership. What Sun has effectively done is put in a chain of command," Rappaport noted.

"I think having a more focused leadership and having an umbrella over its planets will allow Sun to offer a more consolidated vision," Rappaport said.

Sun executives could not be reached for comment on the reorganization.

Though Sun continues to bask in the spoils of financial success, there have been increasing rumblings within the firm that revenue related to Java may not be pulling its weight. By having an executive overseeing all of the company's software efforts, Sun may be able to offer a more coherent story that could translate into wider adoption.

"It will go a long way toward Sun being fairly judged for its products," Forrester's Brown said. "At least now Sun will get their products graded fairly. They get to compete."