October 5, 2005

Sun and Google: Much ado about a toolbar

Author: Stephen Feller

Having allowed hype to build following Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz's blog entry on October 1, the announcement of a "strategic partnership" between Google and Sun Microsystems may have meant something big, but neither company revealed much of what they plan to do.

The chief executive officers of Google and Sun, Eric Schmidt and Scott McNealy, announced that the Google Toolbar would be made available with downloads of the Linux-based Java Runtime Environment (JRE), with plans to eventually add technology to the toolbar from Sun's OpenSolaris operating system and the OpenOffice.org office software suite.

"This is a big deal," McNealy said of the collaboration. "What Netscape did for Java Runtime, we believe JRE can do for the Google Toolbar."

Both Schmidt and McNealy referred to the partnership as a "natural step" for the companies and their products, and that consumers will have more choice as a result of their taking that step.

Recalling his days as a Sun engineer, Schmidt said McNealy used to "rail about interoperability and standard platforms," which he believes has been better brought to life by bringing Google and Sun together.

"Java turned out to be the ideal platform," Schmidt said, adding that it "is fundamentally embedded into daily life." Linking the toolbar and Java is expected to offer users a wider array of software options as the companies find a "natural extension of JRE into the toolbar."

Of the few details the two executives let out, the most notable is that the companies will launch joint research and development on the toolbar and Sun's open-source software, among others. This is a far cry from world-changing development Schwartz wrote about on his blog.

Tying together the business notions of volume and value, Schwartz emphasizes the importance of browsers to computer users, and suggests that the movement away from desktop applications may be reversed as those applications work in new ways.

"Value is returning to the desktop applications ... but in the form of applications that are network service platforms," Schwartz wrote. "There's a resurgence of interest in resident software that executes on your desktop, yet connects to network services. Without a browser."

What turned up the hype on the press conference were the examples of this he offered: "Like Skype. Or QNext Or Google Earth. And Java? OpenOffice and StarOffice?" Leaving the last three open-ended fueled speculation the companies would somehow be merging the toolbar with any number of software, with everything running off the Web. But that's not what Sun and Google announced.

"We're not announcing running OpenOffice from the Web," Schmidt said. "We're in the Web services model."

McNealy later added that he "would not say we're going after Microsoft we're going after customer ease-of-use."

"You could speculate all day about the different places we can go," McNealy said. "What we're doing is putting our assets together."

If, as Schwartz attempted to put it, the recent decision of the Massachussetts state government to require OpenDoc support in its office software coupled with Google and Sun getting together is to be a shot heard round the world, nobody admitted it at the press conference.

Schmidt, staying with "vague" as the theme of the day, simply referred ad infinitum to the importance of Java to what the companies are working on: "It started here, with the people in this room, and it's not done yet."

An option to download the Google toolbar will be included with download bundles of the Java Runtime Environment in late October. The option to download the toolbar will be available with downloads for Linux, Solaris, Mac OS X, and Windows.

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