Microsoft-Sun rivalry rolls on

Sun Microsystems is a lot like baseball's Boston Red Sox. It usually fields a pretty good team, but it always seems to come up short against Microsoft, the tech world's version of the New York Yankees.

One of the greatest rivalries in sports, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, nearly always plays out to a familiar ending. The Red Sox field a pretty good team, but the Yankees always find a way to come out on top.

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In IT, it's about the same. Sun Microsystems fields a pretty good team of products, but Microsoft always seems to get the best of Sun.

In its latest effort to come out ahead in this heated rivalry, Sun this week announced at the SunNetwork show a software package -- called the Sun Java Desktop System -- that includes an open-source operating system and a desktop productivity suite to challenge the mighty Windows and Office lineup.

Some industry observers say the Sun package, at $100 per desktop, is a pretty good deal. Unfortunately for Sun, experts also say that, because of the significant cost of ripping out existing Windows desktops, the likelihood of Sun overtaking Microsoft is about the same as the Red Sox winning it all in October.

But fans can always hope.

Microsoft this week quietly introduced a new -- and potentially very valuable -- use for one of its popular Windows utilities. On Wednesday, Microsoft began giving Windows administrators the ability to use Software Update Services (SUS) to distribute service packs, instead of requiring them to use a separate patch management system or Active Directory group policy.

SUS 1.0 with SP1, which is the current version of the utility, can deliver Windows XP SP1 and Windows 2000 SP4, and it will be able to deliver future service packs for Windows 2000 and XP, as well as Windows Server 2003, Microsoft says.

Customers and consultants who discovered the newfound use for SUS this week say it's a welcome change, but some grumbled about why Microsoft didn't give them any warning that it was making the new capabilities available.

Microsoft test engineer Don Cottam explained on the Bugtraq Internet forum that, because Redmond never made anyone sign up for SUS to begin with, it didn't have an e-mail list with which to tout its offering. Cottam did admit that the software giant could have done a better job notifying users.

Nine months after acquiring PlaceWare, Microsoft is rebranding that company's line of Web conferencing software. On Monday, Microsoft took the wraps off Office Live Meeting, which can handle up to 2,500 participants for a single Web-based meeting, or up to 250,000 across a range of meetings. The technology was developed as a hosted solution for a Unix environment, but Redmond plans to retool future versions for Windows and possibly allow companies to run it on their own servers.

The European Commission has blown a lot of harsh words across the Atlantic at Microsoft about its behavior as Europe's dominant force in operating system software. In August, it threatened to fine Microsoft for what the economic arm of the European Union calls monopolistic business practices. August has turned to September, and still the Europeans rant and rave, but take no action. Microsoft has yet to issue a reply that the commission has demanded.

Europe could be the source of some action, although not the kind IT professionals want to see. Security experts spent much of this week warning users to brace for another variant of the Windows RPC worm. In fact, the word "imminent" was sprinkled liberally in news reports. Late Thursday, an e-mail worm began spreading in Europe, according to an eWeek report. There was no word on whether the attack is related to the RPC vulnerability.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Cost of replacing Windows may mute Sun challenge

Microsoft tool learns new patching trick

Windows service pack tool draws early praise

Office Live Meeting goes live

Microsoft looks to delay EU reply

Worm imminent for new RPC flaws

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