Java Goes to Wal-Mart

By Peter Galli  |  Print this article Print


Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers

Sun is challenging Microsoft on a new front: the consumer market. Believing its Java Desktop System is "a more effective home and retail solution," the company is negotiating with major retailers Wal-Mart and Office Depot to include the deskt

Sun Microsystems Inc. is embarking on a strategy that challenges Microsoft Corp. on a brand-new front: the consumer market.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company is negotiating with major retailers Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Office Depot Inc. to include Sun's Java Desktop System on planned offerings of low-priced consumer PCs and laptops.

Check out eWEEK Labs' review of Sun's Java Desktop System.

"You will see our focus trend toward us not visiting the CEO of, say, Goldman Sachs [Group Inc.] and trying to convince him that we can effectively replace the Microsoft desktop on his banker's workstation," said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president of software, in an interview.

Instead, Schwartz said, the company plans to attract a different segment of the market, including companies such as Wal-Mart, "to leverage our desktop as a more effective home and retail solution."

"We have engaged [Wal-Mart] in a variety of discussions from auto-identification and [radio-frequency ID] tags on suppliers all the way to potentially providing them with a desktop solution," Schwartz said.

Asked whether Sun and Wal-Mart are close to an agreement, Schwartz said, "You should expect to see this sometime next year."

Wal-Mart, of Bentonville, Ark., is expected to launch its own brand of PCs next year, starting with notebooks. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Karen Burk declined to comment on negotiations with Sun and would say only that the company "has no plans for a private-label PC at this time."

If Sun and Wal-Mart reach an agreement, it would represent a substantial departure from Sun's traditional enterprise focus and channel—and a challenging departure at that.

Wal-Mart could consider Java Desktop System for its offerings, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst at ARS Inc., in San Diego, but "in terms of how well it can do, I believe 100 percent that a Windows-powered device would do far better than a Java-powered device.

"A Windows notebook will be far more appealing to most consumers than a Linux/Java one, no matter what the price," Bhavnani said.

Next page: Trading one proprietary desktop for another.

At the same time, some users are painting Sun with the same proprietary brush they say applies to Microsoft and its products. An IT manager, who asked not to be named, said he could not understand why a user would trade one proprietary desktop for another.

"I personally keep Java off my computer because it crashes the system," he said. "If Sun had the interests of the customer in mind, then the Sun desktop would be written in C and donated to Linux. Sun is no better than Microsoft."

Nevertheless, Sun is moving forward, according to Schwartz, and is in talks with Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and Intel Corp. about running Java on the companies' respective architectures. Sun has "been having that discussion with Intel and AMD because we would need to cooperate with both of them to hit price points that were really compelling," he said.

A recent report from NPD Group Inc., of Port Washington, N.Y., said unit sales of notebooks jumped 31 percent in the United States during the first nine months of this year compared with the same period a year ago. Desktop PC sales fell by 1 percent over the same period.

Schwartz is upbeat about the potential for Sun's product in the mass consumer market. The long-run evolution of the Internet is most likely to be driven by consumers, many of them young, and that gives Sun another "bite of the apple" in the next wave of PC client adoptions, Schwartz said.

But ARS' Bhavnani disagreed, saying price is just one of many criteria for consumers and that the youth market is very particular about the products it buys.

"I think that Wal-Mart will test the waters with a known brand, like Windows, rather than an unknown Java or Lindows operating system," Bhavnani said.

"Even if Sun does score a deal with Wal-Mart, it would be big for Sun, but ultimately I don't think it would have any real effect on Microsoft and its dominance in the desktop market," he said.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at www.eweek.com.


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