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Developer.com Update: The Services War Begins

  • February 6, 2001
  • By Tyler Sperry
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Preparing for the Service Wars

This Monday (February 5, 2001) Sun Microsystems started a multi-day event to explain its Web services strategy, dubbed "Sun ONE" for Open Network Environment. On the first afternoon, the gathered press and financial analysts were treated to the usual presentations on industry trends and how Sun's products were addressing the market's needs. Given the source, it wasn't surprising to find the standard parade of tap-dancing vice presidents enlivened with the occasional shot at Microsoft and Windows.

My first conclusion was that it's good not to be a financial analyst. I was only there for a few hours in the afternoon, but the poor analysts were there listening to presentations and customers for another day or more. After an hour or so of the presentations, I noticed that a few of the gathered press were yawning or making discreet exits. The analysts, however, aren't allowed to yawn and have to feign interest in a litany of customers proclaiming their satisfaction with Sun products.

My second conclusion was that a geek's boredom is probably a good sign for Sun. For most technical people, the benefits of using open standards and established products are self-evident. That Sun software strategy relies in large part on Java, XML, and the iPlanet product line is not surprising. Explaining why these are good choices, however, does require shifting to the lower gears for a non-technical audience.

The presence of the financial audience also meant that the occasional jibes at Microsoft were more restrained than at, say, a JavaOne event. McNealy's references to .NET as "not yet" and Active Directory as "captive directory" were more than just partisan swipes, however. They all seemed chosen to highlight specific points that Sun wanted the press and analysts to remember afterwards: that Sun had been using and promoting the net since its beginning, that the adoption of open standards allowed customers to choose products and vendors freely, etc. The subtext was also clear: Sun takes the .NET threat very, very seriously.

There were some blessings in having the Sun brass talk about software from a strategic and product sense. The audience was spared, at least at the beginning, any groaners about the importance of StarOffice or how Jini would change the world Real Soon Now. And although the flurry of product kiosks and demos might have been brain-numbing, it was good to see demonstrations of Sun products actually working together. You can find details on Sun's "Net Effect" pitch at:


The Meaning of XP

Stand by to revise your glossaries. If your reading of messages on Usenet had you believing that XP was an informal acronym for "extreme programming," you'll need to rethink your logic. XP has been adopted by Microsoft as a trial marketing term for the operating system code-named "Whistler." As you're no doubt aware, the first step in creating any marketing term is to remove any semblance of technical validity.

According to David Sims over at The Standard, the XP moniker was derived from "XML Protocol." This makes a certain amount of marketing sense, as there's precious little that XML has to do with an operating system in the normal sense of the term. Of course, that's what I thought about Web browsers, which shows how little I know about modern operating system design.


Meanwhile, over at ZDNet David Coursey followed up on the idea that XP will stand for a new "Xperience." With the new name surfacing well before the big Whistler event next week, Coursey found the whole incident a reminder of how disappointing Windows ME had proven to be when it arrived. In retrospect, the ME debacle -- with Microsoft trying to convince "consumer" users of computers that they don't need geeky features like, say, networking -- is proving a useful historical reference point.


Microsoft, Sun, IBM, and other companies are preparing for a future of distributed systems, where devices and computers freely swap information and services. Telling customers they can't utilize a particular Web service because they're using a "consumer" laptop or non-Microsoft device will be a very tough sell. If the adoption of XP branding is a sign that Microsoft is beginning to understand that proprietary lock-ins alienate customers, I'm all for it. But if it just signals another round of trying to highjack standards such as Kerberos with proprietary extensions, the Redmond marketeers may well find that XP stands for "excoriating press."


Tyler Sperry

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