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A fresh start for Microsoft and Sun

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems have proved that if two bitter rivals like India and Pakistan can use a gentlemanly series of cricket matches to help mend their differences, it shouldn't be too hard for a couple of technology antagonists to find common ground.

All it took was $2 billion on Microsoft's part. Now, how hard was that?

The breathtaking settlement at the end of last week broke down like this: Microsoft paid Sun $700 million to clear up antitrust issues, $900 million to settle patent disputes -- and Redmond threw in $350 million to license some Sun technology. Done deal.

What legal and technology analysts have been chewing on all of this week is how the two IT competitors will integrate their technology from this moment on, and how the deal will affect the European Union's recent $611 million judgment against Microsoft. After all, it was Sun that got the ball rolling with its complaint to the EU in 1998 that Microsoft's business practices violated antitrust law.

Now that Sun is shining on Microsoft, are all of those prior arguments moot? Many legal analysts think not. They say the EU's Competition Commission proved its case about Microsoft's unfair bundling of its media player in Windows. We'll see how much wiggle room is available now when Redmond makes its initial appeal before Europe's Court of First Instance sometime in the next two months.

An opening to open source

On another front, some wonder whether this means Sun is backing away from Linux. Not so, says John Fowler. Sun's chief technology officer told Linux Pipeline this week that "the agreement with Microsoft is about interoperability and choice for our customers, not about battling Linux or open source."

Even Microsoft is getting into the open source act these days. Yes, it's true. The reigning king of proprietary software released its Windows Installer XML toolset to the open source community under the Common Public License.

Also this week, Microsoft took a number of steps toward improving its sometimes-strained relationship with enterprise customers. One effort -- a "feedback loop" -- was outlined by Rich Kaplan, Microsoft's corporate vice president for content delivery, at the MVP [Most Valuable Professional] Summit in Redmond. In an interview with after the summit, Kaplan explained that the plan involves the release of "tools" that will allow customers to interact directly with Microsoft about products. He promised more information on the project this summer.

Tuning in to 'Channel 9'

While Kaplan was ambiguous about what kind of tools he as talking about, presumably they are similar to "Channel 9," the hybrid blog-discussion forum quietly launched on Tuesday by Redmond that lets users communicate directly with Microsoft product developers. The name Channel 9, by the way, comes from the in-flight channel that lets airline passengers listen to flight-crew conversations.

User group relations also appear to be a pillar of this new customer-centric effort. A sign of that is Culminis Inc., a newly formed non-profit company that federates several well-known Microsoft user groups, representing about 7.5 million IT professionals. The organization's mission is to act as the primary liaison and educational pipeline to Redmond.

Now if Microsoft could only improve its frosty relationship with Canadian engineers. For about four years, engineering trade groups in Canada have, umm, engineered a campaign to get Microsoft to stop calling certain IT professionals "Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers." It seems that engineers who spent years earning the title don't like it when IT guys put it after their names. Well, a Quebec court sided with the trade groups and fined Microsoft $1,000 for violating provincial laws that prohibit the use of the title "engineer" except by those licensed by a recognized body. It almost goes without saying, Microsoft will appeal.


Microsoft settles legal battle with Sun

Microsoft customer feedback loop envisioned

Microsoft-focused user groups form coalition

Microsoft forges link with open source

Microsoft fined for misuse of the term 'engineer'

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