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October 5, 2005updated 19 Aug 2016 10:11am

Sun Basks in Google’s Reflected Street Cred

So after all the fuss before Sun and Google's press announcement yesterday evening, the truth turned out to be a lot less exciting than the speculation that preceded it. Here the US editor of our sister publication ComputerWire, Kevin Murphy,

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So after all the fuss before Sun and Google’s press announcement yesterday evening, the truth turned out to be a lot less exciting than the speculation that preceded it. Here the US editor of our sister publication ComputerWire, Kevin Murphy, explains what they did – and just as importantly what they did not – announce.

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Sun Microsystems wants to be cool again, and it has signed up Google to help it. That’s the biggest takeaway from yesterday’s much-ballyhooed joint press conference, in which the chief executives of both companies made vague promises to work together and revealed almost nothing about their plans, if indeed they have any. [Image: Sun’s McNealy and Google’s Schmidt at the conference yesterday, announcing the Google Toolbar distribution deal.]

Img_508311024x768 The substance: Sun has agreed to distribute Google Toolbar as an optional add-on when people download the Java Runtime Environment from java.com, and the two companies will “explore opportunities” to promote OpenOffice.

Everything else is speculation, and speculation that Sun boss Scott McNealy seemed particularly keen to promote.

“You could speculate all day long about all the different places and ways we could go and work together, and they’re all legitimate speculation,” he said, when one reporter pushed him unsuccessfully to put some meat on the PR skeleton.

The announcement that Google and Sun are buddies is not insignificant, however. Longer term, indications are that the companies will collaborate on some kind of platform play. That’s what they want us to think, anyway, and it’s evidently what we want to believe.

“Will these products be enough to replace Windows?” one reporter, from a widely read non-technical publication, asked eagerly.

“So tell us all about this new operating system you’re going to build,” asked another, with a knowing smile in his voice.

Somehow, somewhere, the media has got it into its head that Google is a whisker from blowing away Microsoft’s operating system monopoly, and no amount of announcing trivial software distribution deals is going to dilute that consensus.

“We’re in the end user search business,” Google boss Eric Schmidt said plainly, in one of the press conference’s occasional moments of clarity.

Another came when McNealy said: “We, a long time, ago were pretty hot, then the bubble kinda burst, and we’ve been kinda retooling and re-strategizing and making a very aggressive push to take back Wall Street.”

“We were the hot web server, we were the dot in dot-com in the olden days, and we want to take it back,” he said. “What better way to make a statement than to partner with the leader of web services here with Google.”

The deal “sends a very clear message to internet service providers, to web sites, to big scalable web sites, that we’ve got the technology” McNealy suggested, hopefully.

Even though Sun will distribute the toolbar, it is telling that this part of the arrangement is not quid pro quo. Schmidt admitted that it would “make sense” for Google to distribute Sun’s technology, the JRE maybe, but the company will not.

Sun appears to be exhibiting the same kind of mentality as some of Google’s print advertisers, who believe that being associated with the Google brand, even just as an advertiser, is good for business, and are willing to pay for the privilege.

McNealy spun it the other way. “What Netscape did for the Java runtime we believe the JRE can now do for the Google Toolbar,” he said. Schmidt added that he expects tens of millions of additional Toolbar downloads from the Sun deal.

As unexpectedly dull as yesterday’s news was, it is the potential future developments that Google getting into bed with Sun could produce that are gathering all the interest.

The companies’ promise to “explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies, like the Java Runtime Environment and the OpenOffice.org productivity suite” gives the best indicator of where they could be headed in the medium term.

No specifics were given, and suggestions that Google may make a hosted web services version of OpenOffice available, maybe using the Ajax application development technique, were not directly addressed.

That notion was probably a long shot, given Google doesn’t even natively support OpenOffice’s OpenDocument Format in its Google Desktop search application.

The two companies do appear to be aligned on the future of computing. That is to say, McNealy and Sun president Jonathan Schwartz rolled out their time-tested “network is the computer” theories, and Schmidt was sitting on the same stage not disagreeing.

McNealy, an ice hockey fan, said the companies are aligning on “where the puck is going, not where the puck has been, in terms of a platform environment. It’s back to the future — the network is the computer”.

Schwartz observed that Google has made a habit of exposing application programming interfaces for most of its applications, allowing developers to extend them.

“As Google looks to expose more and more APIs, as they are in the Java Community Process for a reason, they’re looking to make sure the platform evolves in an interesting way for them, there’s lot of opportunity,” he said. “Web services are becoming programming platforms.”

The implications, unlikely as they still seem, were clear — Microsoft had better watch out because in future we’re not going to need its software. Applications are all going to be hosted and thin-client and bandwidth will be so cheap it won’t matter.

“Basically, Windows is still the only remnant of the old client-server computing model and people still writing desktop .NET client-server applications,” McNealy said. “That’s so last millennium.”

There were a couple of other minor areas of partnership outlined during the press conference. Namely, Google is buying an undisclosed number of Sun servers, and Sun is buying an undisclosed amount of advertising on Google.

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