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Software rules at Sun

Sun Microsystems uses its earnings report day to outline its strategic software direction based on the Solaris operating system, the Java platform, and its networking experience.

MENLO PARK, California--Sun Microsystems (SUNW) wants the world of network software to revolve around it.

That's the message the company pounded home today at the Inside Sun Software gathering at the company's headquarters.

Sun used the event to outline its strategic software direction for the next several years. The strategy is based on its Solaris operating system, the Java platform, and its networking experience. The company's hardware, on the other hand, got short shrift, even from CEO, president and chairman Scott McNealy.

"It's time we face up to what Sun is--we're a software company that ships disk drives and DRAM to run our software," McNealy told the audience.

McNealy also said that the enterprise computing world has boiled down to three platforms--Microsoft-Intel, Sparc-Solaris, and the HTML-Internet space--in which Sun is well-positioned either through intellectual property holdings or through compatibility and competitiveness.

A procession of Sun executives took the podium here before McNealy to hammer away at the day's themes, one of which was Sun's ambition to make the public data network as accessible and ubiquitous as the public telephone network.

Dubbed "Webtone," the concept allows Sun to position its Solaris operating system as the back-end management scheme, Java clients as the front-end user interface, and Java applications as the vehicle for delivering information. But McNealy wouldn't talk about numbers and figures when asked what "webtone" meant to the company's bottom line.

Despite his usual jabs at Microsoft, McNealy acknowledged that Windows NT is a player in the server market, and the company went to some length today to emphasize that its servers are NT-compatible.

"It's the PC and the Java browser on the client side, and it's NT and Solaris in the server room," said McNealy. He added, however, that NT has years to go to catch up to Solaris for reliability and complexity.

"NT is Solaris '92," said McNealy. He also took a shot at Microsoft's Windows CE small-footprint operating system, calling it "Bob 4.0," alluding to Microsoft's failed attempt to create a more "social" user interface.

The company announced that its Solaris-based WebServer will be available as a free download in June. It also released details about upcoming security products. The firewall SunScreen SPF 2.0 will be available in July with a price range of $1,500 for 25 users to $15,000 for unlimited users. The access management tool SunScreen EFS 2.0 will be available within 90 days for the same price range. July will also mark the release of Security Manager, a suite of products to facilitate secure transactions over public and private networks.

Sun also unveiled the Solaris road map, saying that the 64-bit OS would have 64-bit file support in the second half of 1997. In 1998 Solaris should be a native Java platform with support for 64-bit applications and unlimited Internet addresses.

Even with his company mapping out the future, McNealy joked that Sun hasn't done enough to promote its vaporware.

"We'll give you the opportunity to talk about how we've slipped our dates, too," McNealy said.

When asked about the departure of long-time Sun CTO Eric Schmidt to Novell, McNealy said that the two companies are in contact every day and that Schmidt so far has lured away only one staffer.

"We've lost one PR person to him, and that hopefully will be it if he still wants to talk to us."

The company is looking internally for Schmidt's replacement.