Sun Microsystems Inc. on Monday will announce a technology partnership with two IT ministries in the Chinese government as well as the formation of a new company, China Standard Software, to deliver a China-branded software stack based on Suns Java Desktop System.
Sun CEO Scott McNealy will make the announcement during his Monday morning keynote address titled “Scaling Out: Sun Applies Innovation to Volume Technologies” at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.
The announcement comes just days after Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for software at Sun, said the company was pursuing a new “per citizen” pricing model for the upcoming Java Desktop System, to allow government agencies to distribute the system to their citizens.
In an interview ahead of McNealys keynote, Curtis Sasaki, vice president of desktop solutions at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif., told eWEEK that the Chinese government is hoping to roll the solution out around the beginning of next year.
A Sun executive who asked not to be named told eWEEK that while the current Java Desktop System is powered by SuSE Linux, the Chinese deal will probably have a custom Linux Standards Base-compliant Linux operating system that will be supported by the Chinese government and its IT partners.
But Sasaki was evasive when asked what Linux distribution will power the Chinese desktop system, saying Suns code is very portable. He did, however, indicate that it may not be SuSE Linux, saying, “While we are not wedded to any Linux distribution per se, we do have a partnership and contract with SuSE.”
The Chinese agencies and their partners will provide all of the infrastructure, support and marketing services around the offering, he said, adding that the Chinese government already has a strong initiative around Linux, and this makes it easier for them to get the solution to market quickly. Microsoft Windows and Office are “just too expensive for most ordinary citizens,” he said.
The new company, China Standard Software, will be funded by a couple of existing Chinese IT companies as well as by two of the information technology ministries within China, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Information Industry, which were responsible for setting the IT standard for the government and education in the country.
Sun has no investment stake in that company: “Our contribution is really the IP and technology base,” Sasaki said, adding that the Chinese government is looking to deliver software that is affordable to its citizens as well as create a standard for use in government and education.
“There is also a big digital divide between the western parts of China and the eastern parts, which include Beijing and Shanghai, which is a lot more technology savvy than on the west,” he said.
The Chinese government itself has a large initiative to bridge that divide by building up infrastructure and delivering Linux-based solutions to many of its citizens, Sasaki said, adding that the good news for Sun is that it will now work with the Chinese government to deliver an open, standards-based desktop environment.
Sasaki declined to give specific details of the agreement between Sun and the Chinese governmental agencies, but he did say it “is a revenue generating opportunity for Sun. It is not a giveaway, it is for revenue, but I cannot tell you the price as this is confidential.
“But we do have a typical volume pricing deal that is structured, and there are some significant numbers in that agreement. The key thing about this partnership is that they will also have a significant number of engineers to add value to the project for the Chinese market specifically. Its not just about them shipping our code as is, but we are partnering with them to add more value to the entire stack,” he said.
Suns Schwartz said last week that “per citizen” pricing could see the price of that desktop solution plummet as low as $10 a user, depending on the volume. “Those places with structural impediments to spending large amounts of money on IT are the target market and offer a huge opportunity for Sun,” he said.
Sun will be holding a press conference in Beijing the last week of November with officials from the two Chinese ministries as well as with ones from China Standard Software, Sasaki said.
Microsoft is also vying with Sun and others for lucrative foreign government contracts. In February, the Chinese government signed up for Microsofts recently announced Government Security Program, which gives it access to Windows source code and prescriptive guidance on security assurance. China joined the U.K., Russia and NATO as the first participants in the program.
But that initiative did not stop Microsoft from losing a lucrative desktop replacement deal with the city of Munich to IBM and SuSE Linux in May.
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