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Sun-Google Partnership: Is It About Money, or About Microsoft?

Scott McNealy: ''There's going to be a lot of money flowing both ways if we do this thing right"

"There's going to be a lot of money flowing both ways if we do this thing right," said Scott McNealy yesterday, in the much-publicized press conference he held with Eric Schmidt in Mountain View's Computer History Museum. But are Sun and Google teaming up just to make money, or are they hoping in partnership that they can out-Microsoft Microsoft?

Prior to the news conference yesterday, expectations were high that perhaps computer history would be made at 10:30AM PT in the Computer History Museum. Even though the advance notice given to the press was low-key ("Sun CEO Scott McNealy and Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt take the stage at the Computer History Museum today at 10:30 AM PT to discuss joint activities"), speculation was rife that the announcement might be something truly game-changing.

One clue, it was felt, lay in the last blog entry prior to the announcement published by Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president, COO, and Blogger Extraordinary. Here it is in all its tantalizing, allusive glory:

"[V]alue is returning to the desktop applications, and not simply through Windows Vista. But in the form of applications that are network service platforms. From the obvious, to music sharing clients and development tools, there's a resurgence of interest in resident software that executes on your desktop, yet connects to network services. Without a browser. Like Skype. Or QNext. Or Google Earth. And Java? OpenOffice and StarOffice?

If I were a betting man, I'd bet the world was about to change."

But at 10:30AM PT yesterday, it wasn't (yet) obvious if Schwartz is going to win the bet. Despite his presence on the stage there was a sense that not everything that Sun and Google have agreed can yet be publicized.

What was said? Well, under the new Sun-Google agreement, Sun will include the Google Toolbar as an option in its consumer downloads of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) on http://java.com/.

But the key to this partnership more likely lies in the second part of the announcement, which was that  the companies "have agreed to explore opportunities to promote and enhance Sun technologies, like the JRE and the OpenOffice.org productivity suite available at http://www.openoffice.org/" [my emphasis].

"Working with Google will make our technologies available more broadly, increase options for users, lower barriers and expand participation worldwide," said Scott McNealy, somewhat vaguely. "Free and open source technologies, such as OpenOffice.org, OpenSolaris and Java, have never been safer or offered more choices," he added.

So the agreement aims to make it easier for users to freely obtain Sun's JRE, the Google Toolbar and the OpenOffice.org office productivity suite, helping millions of users worldwide - as McNealy described it - "to participate in the next wave of Internet growth."

But the real clue to this lay in the presence on the platform of Sun's president, COO, and thought leader Jonathan Schwartz.

"As a leader in free and open source software, Sun has long recognized that network innovation is vital to the evolution of the global economy," said McNealy. No-one, he might have added, is more dedicated to disruptive network innovation right now than Schwartz.

"Google and Java are two of the most widely recognized technology brands because they provide users with online tools that enhance their lives on a day to day basis," said Google's Schmidt, equally vaguely. But then he added the ten words that must surely have sent tremors through the entire Redmond campus: "We look forward to exploring other related areas of collaboration."

If I were a betting man, to paraphrase Schwartz, I'd bet his next blog was about to be the most closely studied since be began Sun-blogging on June 28, 2004.


More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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