Java Goes to Wal-Mart

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 Suns Java Desktop System on planned offerings of low-priced consumer PCs and laptops.

/zimages/3/28571.gifCheck out eWEEK Labs review of Suns 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 bankers workstation," said Jonathan Schwartz, Suns 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 Suns 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.