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Sun to lose key player in Web software push

Marco Boerries, Sun Microsystems' vice president of Webtop and application software, is poised to resign on the eve of the company's Feb. 5 Web-services strategy launch.

A key player behind Sun Microsystems' software strategy is poised to resign on the eve of the company's Feb. 5 Web-services strategy launch.

Marco Boerries, Sun's vice president of Webtop and application software, has submitted his resignation, effective Jan. 26, according to several sources close to the company.

But Sun executives are trying to find a way to hold onto Boerries, the entrepreneur-turned-Sun executive, sources added. Boerries did not immediately return a call seeking comment. A Sun spokesman declined to comment.

The timing of Boerries' departure could not be much worse.

Sun is gearing up to unveil its battle plan for combating archrival Microsoft in the Web services arena. The Sun-America Online joint venture iPlanet is expected to launch new Webtop remote-access software, one of the elements upon which Sun is building its hosting infrastructure. This infrastructure will form Sun's backbone over which service providers will deliver Web services, according to sources.

Besides being vice president and general manager of the Webtop software group, Boerries also oversees StarOffice and StarPortal, two other Sun software offerings expected to figure into the company's Web services initiative. StarOffice is an open-source desktop office suite that can be split into different components. StarPortal is a hosted version of StarOffice that is accessible remotely through any browser.

Ambassador for open source
During the past year and a half, Boerries has risen rapidly through the Sun ranks, emerging as the company's unofficial open-source ambassador.

At 16, after a stint as a German exchange student at a high school in Palo Alto, Calif., Boerries began developing word processing software. He founded StarDivision shortly thereafter, then sold the company to Sun for $73.5 million in August 1999.

On Feb. 5, Sun is expected to position its Java-based iPlanet suite of software as the technology upon which developers can build "Smart Services"--one of the brand names for Web services Sun is kicking around--said sources familiar with the company's plans.

Sun is expected to contrast its "open" approach to Microsoft's Windows-centric .Net software-as-a-service initiative, which Microsoft first detailed last June.

As evidence of its openness, Sun will talk about Web services as interchangeable, almost plug-and-play-like applications comprising multiple components from multiple companies.

"Sun is positioning the iPlanet application server stack as a kind of operating system--one of several they will support," said Bowstreet CEO Bob Crowley. "You'll be able to create EJBs (Enterprise Java Beans) and JSPs (Java Server Pages) in this environment. This will be where you build components."

Multiple Web services can be linked together in Sun's vision. In Sun parlance, collections of separate hosted services that are brought together from across the network are called "service grids."

Each service--which could be anything from e-mail to a stock ticker or word processor--can come from a different provider.

At its Web services launch, Sun is expected to tout several companies building and hosting Web services that are based on the Webtop.

Web services vendor Bowstreet will be one of these partners, Bowstreet executives confirmed. Oracle's hosting unit is expected to participate as an infrastructure partner as well, according to sources. Oracle executives did not respond to a request for confirmation by press time. Sun executives declined to comment on any aspects of the company's Feb. 5 software strategy day.

Challenges loom
One analyst noted that Sun faces a formidable challenge in presenting a coherent Web services plan to customers and developers.

Sun Research has developed a Web services toolkit, code-named Brazil, that could fill one such hole--if and when Sun delivers a commercial version of it. Sun executives have said Brazil is one element of the company's long-term Web services strategy.

"Sun has the pieces to put together a compelling Web services strategy," said Uttam Narsu, Giga Information Group senior industry analyst. "But right now, their products are like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces don't quite fit. There are lots of gaps in their lineup, and it's too heavily Java-based."

Narsu noted that Sun hasn't been vocal enough in backing evolving Web services standards, such as the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) transport mechanism.

And even though a Sun employee is credited as being the father of XML (Extensible Markup Language), Sun has become a "laggard" in backing the data-sharing protocol that is integral to the Web services model, Narsu said.

To date, "Sun has adopted a spritzer strategy for XML," Narsu said. "They spray a little here and a little there. They've ended up with a bit of a credibility gap on this front."

Staff writer Deborah Gage contributed to this report.