Publicly, McNealy never tires of pointing out the faults of Microsoft and of Windows 2000 in particular. But privately, his company is relying on Microsoft software to manage an essential Internet forum for software developers.
In a JavaLobby posting this week, Lew Tucker, head of Sun's developer community, said the company, "in keeping with market trends," had decided to outsource forum hosting to service provider Critical Path.
"Members have since pointed out that the front-end Web servers used by Critical Path run Windows" and Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS), Tucker wrote. "The environment used by Critical Path, like many others, is heterogeneous. They employ several technologies including Solaris, Windows and Java. We see Critical Path as a good partner."
Forum users did not take the news lightly, and many posts faulted the company for switching to Microsoft software instead of using Sun systems and Java.
"With all their might and power, if Sun can't implement their Web sites with Java technologies, then who else can?" asked one poster. "I really wonder what would be necessary to see Java technologies being used at a billion-dollar enterprise. Does this mean Java is meant for nonenterprise use?"
Tucker told CNET News.com today that the majority of the Java community site "is still here at Sun and is still running on Java technology." Critical Path largely uses "Sun on the back end, and they're using Windows servers on the front end. That's basically fine with us. They're using Sun, and they're using Solaris."
"That's perverse," Gartner analyst Paul McGuckin said. "I don't know why they would allow that to happen. Even if they went to an outside server provider, there are tons of them to choose from."
McGuckin said the move could polarize Sun's Java developers, who tend to be a rather devoted lot. "I wouldn't call it a good move from a PR perspective," he said. "It certainly adds a ton of confusion to the religious fervor."
Sun this week moved the servers to Critical Path, and developers were quick to notice, Tucker acknowledged.
"The Java community, which is a very astute community, was able to deduce the servers running the discussion groups were NT servers," he said. "And they responded by asking why Sun is running IIS."
He defended the switch by pointing out that it happened without Sun having to temporarily take down the discussion groups, and that users get better performance and new features.
One professional developer said his company's "customers will often suggest, or even tell us, what technologies to use. Why didn't Sun do this to Critical Path? Why didn't Sun tell them they had to limit their choices to Java-based technologies?"
Said Tucker: "While we certainly do like it when our service providers adopt Sun's technology, we're really not in a position to dictate that to them. We're looking for the best services to our customers. Critical Path is serving up standard HTML, and that's what we want."
One of a handful of Sun defenders said few companies, not even Microsoft, rely solely on their own products. "No shop is 100 percent single vendor," the developer wrote. "At Microsoft, some people have Linux desktops, and at Sun, some people have Linux desktops."
Maybe Linux developers could have better accepted the switch, but Microsoft and Windows NT, both long vilified by McNealy, appeared tough for many of the Java faithful to accept.
"There's a desire from a lot of our Java community to see Java everywhere, and so they expressed some disappointment in Sun having a relationship with a vendor that is not pure Java," Tucker said.