"Never a dull moment around here," was Sun CEO Scott McNealy's quip at the start of an announcement conference. The announcement was that Sun and Microsoft, have a 10-year agreement, that they cease all litigation between them, that Microsoft pays Sun $900 million (£495m) to end patent issues, $700 million (£385m) to resolve anti-trust issues and $350 million (£192m) as advance payment for using Sun technology. A billion here, a billion there - pretty soon we'll be talking real money.
There was much talk of Sun using Microsoft technology too. McNealy said: "Customers say we need peace; we need interoperability." The Sun/Microsoft war had been talked up by McNealy and his management who have insulted and belittled Microsoft often and caused the EEC investigation that resulted in Microsoft having to pay a $700 million fine.
Sun and Microsoft have signed a technical collaboration agreement providing each access to the other's technology, initially focusing on Windows Server and Windows client. Identity management was mentioned and it seems likely we'll soon see single sign-on from Windows clients to Windows servers and Sun servers. Identity information will be more easily shared between Microsoft's Active Directory and Sun's Java System Identity Server. Bill Gates and Sun's Greg Papadopoulos are meeting monthly to discuss interoperability issues. McNealy said, "We'll get a higher level of [server-to-server] interoperability going forward.... We'll add more Microsoft interoperability in Solaris and the Java Enterprise System."
Sun is also ensuring its X86 boxes, both Xeon and Opteron, are certified to run Windows and Sun will add Windows Server as a supported environment alongside Solaris and Linux. Both companies fear Linux. Sun is finding that enterprises, large and small, are choosing it over Solaris for mid-range to smallish servers. Microsoft is finding customers are moving the same way because of perceived high Microsoft software costs. The public sector is especially affected.
Sun gets access to desktop communications protocols, as dictated by Microsoft's consent decree with the US DoJ. There will be improved collaboration between Java and .Net but there are no plans to merge them.
Sun says it supports Linux. The truth was revealed by Robert Youngjohns, Sun's executive VP for sales operations: "It's not just about AMD Opteron and Linux which everyone believes to be the story but why not think about Solaris X86 if youre going to have to change operating systems it is a better implementation... Channel partners are interested in using that opportunity for a cross-sell... We're seeing this cross-sell being very interestingly deployed in the industry. If the price and performance of Sun Sparc is in the same league, many customers are saying good enough."
Sun has failed to reduce costs enough to make customer's reduced spend on Sun technology profitable. Customers just aren't buying enough expensive Sun Solaris and Java enterprise systems. Consequently Sun will make 3,300 people redundant over the next few months. It's also vacating some buildings to reduce costs.
The future for Star Office looks brighter, in theory, with Sun getting access to Microsoft technology. But there may well be agreements behind the agreements. The company needs to sell its servers and better interoperability with Windows servers and desktops could have a dimension we don't know about, one that disadvantages Linux to benefit both Sun and Microsoft. Sun and Microsoft, while shining on each other's parades, could well be raining on Linux'.
So will Sun stop bad-mouthing Microsoft? McNealy said: "I'm going to do my best to be good. I will be good...The Scott and Steve [Ballmer] level has been on a high level of professionalism and integrity. Maybe we've grown up. Maybe they've grown up."
Maybe leopards do change their spots. Maybe pigs do fly. Maybe. Maybe not.