Sun Takes Crack at Desktop Windows

At LinuxWorld, chief software engineer Jonathan Schwartz told the crowd its "Mad Hatter" Microsoft-killer will command half the price of a Windows-Microsoft Office combination.

SAN FRANCISCO—Sun Microsystems Inc.s chief software engineer took the LinuxWorld stage here today to show off "Mad Hatter," the companys upcoming unified desktop, which he said the company will sell for half the price of a Windows environment.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of Suns software group, also said that a broad software-license deal struck with AT&T in the late 1990s allowed the company to inject whatever code it wanted into the Linux kernel. Schwartz pledged to indemnify its customers against any lawsuits by the SCO Group or another supplier.

Mad Hatter, which Sun first disclosed a year ago, is Suns effort to dislodge Microsoft Corp. and its Windows/Office combination from the desktop PC. Like StarOffice, which is built upon the work of the developers, Mad Hatter will include a third-party Linux GUI such as GNOME, the Mozilla browser, Suns StarOffice suite, the Evolution e-mail server, the GAIM messaging client and Java – and it will be priced to undercut Microsoft.

"We think it will be 80 to 90 percent less expensive than (Microsoft)," Schwartz said in a question-and-answer session following his keynote. When audience members pointed out that Microsoft uses volume pricing to win enterprise customers, Schwartz amended his statement to say that Sun will price its products at half the price of Microsofts volume discounts.

"Whatever Microsofts last quote is, well be half that," Schwartz said. Developers can email for an evaluation copy, he said.

/zimages/5/26680.gifSeeking Microsoft desktop alternatives? Read the Microsoft Watch interview with CEO Michael Robertson.

In a demonstration of Mad Hatter, Schwartz also showed off what he said was a "thought piece" on a future 3D GUI. The demo, dubbed "Looking Glass," used transparent, three-dimensional windows that could rotate in space and hide behind one another, drastically increasing the desktop space. The GUI demonstration also featured a Mac OS X-like "dock" containing thumbnail copies of recently viewed documents.

"The only way for Microsoft to respond isnt a new color schema or a patch—its by lowering the prices," Schwartz said.

Schwartz said that Sun had no plans to commercialize the Looking Glass demo technology but intended the demonstration as an indicator of the potential of the platform. Microsofts Longhorn technology, due in late 2005, also treats windows as transparent 3D objects. Schwartzs demonstration ran off an older Sony laptop with a "mid-range" ATI graphics processor, he said.

As for the Apple connection, Schwartz said that the practically every Sun employee owns an Apple desktop at home. "We would love to partner with Apple, he said. "Theyre everyones favorite company, and iTunes is really cool."

Next page: How Sun will handle SCO.