What a letdown. When word began circulating that Google and Sun Microsystems were poised to make a joint announcement, speculation abounded that Sun's StarOffice (or its lesser open source sibling, OpenOffice) had been somehow transformed into a Gmail-like suite that Google could deliver as a service. Microsoft, your Office fatware is history! The network computer lives!
The reality, announced at the Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday morning, was barely an announcement at all. Only one concrete item: Sun has agreed to bundle Google's browser toolbar with Sun's Java Runtime Environment (which is downloaded 20 million times per month, according to Sun). The rest was happy talk. "Going forward, there's lots more we can do. They have a lot of smart folks at Google," said Sun CEO Scott McNealy.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt, a Sun exec himself for 14 years until he left to run Novell in 1997, agreed that it was a banner day. "This is a very significant deal," he intoned.
Really? A toolbar distribution deal?
The elephant in the museum was, of course, Star/OpenOffice. Just three days before, Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz had fired up expectations in his blog with this shameless tease: "There's a resurgence of interest in resident software that executes on your desktop, yet connects to network services. Without a browser. Like Skype. Or QNext. Or Google Earth. And Java? OpenOffice and StarOffice?"
But at the event, Schmidt parried the obvious question with, "We will work to make the distribution of [OpenOffice] become broader. We are not announcing specifics."
Some speculated that Schmidt was simply doing a favor for his old pal McNealy, because anticipation of the non-announcement ran higher than that of any Sun revelation in recent memory. In the bargain, the two CEOs must have enjoyed giving Microsoft a mild case of indigestion.
One thing is clear from last's week's overexcitement: People sense the beginning of the end of the desktop era. And the yearning for high-functioning software as a service that promises escape from endless upgrades, security patches, and exorbitant licensing costs is palpable.