A deal between a Chinese software company and Sun is set to lead to the biggest Linux desktop deal yet.

Sun CEO Scott McNealy has announced an agreement between the company and the China Standard Software Co that would see Sun's Linux-based Java Desktop being installed on hundreds of millions of computers in the People's Republic of China.

"We're going to immediately roll out the Java Desktop System to between a half million and a million desktops in the coming year," said McNealy. "This, I believe, makes us instantaneously the number one Linux desktop play in the planet."

The China Standard Software is a consortium of Chinese government-supported companies set up to bring a Linux-based desktop to 200 million Chinese computer users, a target mandated by the Chinese government.

Sun hopes that the deal will be the first of a number of deals aimed at bringing the Java Desktop System to government agencies worldwide. "We're out calling on every ministry of IT on the planet, so stay tuned," McNealy said. "There should be some more interesting data there."

Showing that Sun's love affair with the network computer is still burning strong, McNealy also demonstrated the US$700 Sun Ray thin client desktop systems that he said Sun has used to shave millions of dollars off its own IT costs. Thanks to the Sun Rays, 13,000 Sun employees no longer have a dedicated office and a single administrator can manage two to three thousand desktops, he said. The company has also saved millions in power "by not having a Wintel space heater in each of our offices," he said.

Sun researchers have developed a laptop version of the Sun Ray, which essentially consists of a display, keyboard and networking port, McNealy said. "Think of the battery life you'd get out of a Sun Ray laptop connected over Wi-Fi," he said.