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Sun's .NET Effect

by Rael Dornfest

The tone for Sun's Monday rally, "The Net Effect: To Services and Beyond," was already well set before anyone took their seats. A handout entitled "Humble (Cow)Pie: 15 Questions that Microsoft asked Sun" read:

We are enormously flattered by Microsoft's .NET. After all, it's recognition of a vision that we've had since Scott first uttered the phrases, "The Network is The Computer(TM)" in the late 1980s; and "the service-driven network" in 1996.

And so began Sun's non-reaction to Microsoft's .NET Web services initiatives. Taking the stage in a packed press/industry analyst rally in San Francisco, Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy reminded us that Net services are what Sun has been doing all along -- it's all they know how to do.


The assumptions underlying Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) are:

  • Scalability -- the design center is billions; we're not talking local area network here
  • Webtone -- the reliability of your Net connection is as expected as dial-tone on your telephone
  • Openness -- integratability and extensibility using open Web standards

The idea is to get all your various devices on the Net and talking to one-another all the time in a reliable, open architecture.

"Not Yet"

While Microsoft plans its .NET rollout over the next few years, McNealy spoke to the existence of technologies by Sun and friends that already enables Web services. The platform is Solaris; the services are EJBs, and iPlant Integration, Application, and Web servers; policy and process are the stuff of (LDAP) directories; and sitting on top of this foundation are "Smart" Web Services powered by the Sun ONE Webtop and others.

"Integrateable, Not Integrated"

While Microsoft's focus is on integrated solutions, Sun describes its solutions as "an integrateable stack of software" used to build smart network-based services. Of course they'll be glad to supply you with a full solution, but you can also pick and choose what suits your purposes. McNealy compared this with the Microsoft model where you "pick one, you get a whole bunch of others; it's not integrateable, it's welded shut."


"Every component of this Sun ONE architecture is interconnected by open, publically available, Web-adopted protocols" -- meaning the usual suspects: XML, UDDI, SOAP, LDAP, WDSL, et al, were all given a brief "magic happens here" mention.

The Webtop

The Webtop plays a prominent role in the user's view of the Sun ONE vision, allowing productivity sofware and other services without need of complex installation, constant maintenance, and interoperability issues. A personal portal taking into account the user's particular needs and tasks-at-hand provide a common yet adaptive interface to Net services from the Web browser, thin client, Palm Pilot or cellphone. I must say I was rather impressed by a simple demonstration of a document viewed within a full-scale word processor as browser plugin, then as a simple HTML page, and again in a lightweight Palm application delivered over modem connection.


A final theme running through McNealy's spiel was that of focus. Sun is "happy being an infrastructure systems supplier." No web site (a reference to MSN), set-top boxes, game machines, and certainly no competing with their customers.

The day concluded with break-out sessions, Q&A, and cocktail party cum product showcase. All in all, the event was as expected: 70% infomercial, 20% Microsoft bashing, and 10% solid infrastructure overview.

Rael Dornfest is Founder and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based Values of n. Rael leads the Values of n charge with passion, unearthly creativity, and a repertoire of puns and jokes — some of which are actually good. Prior to founding Values of n, he was O'Reilly's Chief Technical Officer, program chair for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (which he continues to chair), series editor of the bestselling Hacks book series, and instigator of O'Reilly's Rough Cuts early access program. He built Meerkat, the first web-based feed aggregator, was champion and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification, and has written and contributed to six O'Reilly books. Rael's programmatic pride and joy is the nimble, open source blogging application Blosxom, the principles of which you'll find in the Values of n philosophy and embodied in Stikkit: Little yellow notes that think.

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