The licensing and development agreement that America Online (AOL) signed with Sun Microsystems when it acquired Netscape means that Sun and Netscape?s application server families now overlap with each other.
Although details of the three year deal remain vague, it is understood that AOL will purchase $500 million worth of Sun hardware, while Sun will pay AOL a minimum of $350 million in unspecified licensing, marketing and advertising fees.
The companies will collaborate on e-commerce technology, which they will jointly sell, and Sun will also help AOL develop future versions of the Netscape browser.
Under the terms of the three-way deal, Sun will lead the enterprise software development effort, while Netscape will de-emphasise it to focus on client software and enhancing its Netcenter portal site.
George Polini, Sun?s vice president of Java software marketing, said: "It?s very early to address specific technologies that any of the three companies have in the pipeline."
Conflict between Netscape?s and Sun?s competing application server platforms would seem inevitable, however.
This much hyped sector of the software market is currently considered one of the sweet spots, and both Sun and Netscape bought their way into it via acquisitions. Netscape bought Kiva, while Sun purchased NetDynamics.
Until AOL?s acquisition of Netscape is complete in three months time, Sun will sell its own NetDynamics-based server, but after this, it will also provide Netscape?s Kiva offering, which has now been renamed the Netscape Application Server.
According to Polini, the products are targetted at different markets - NetDynamics? offering is sold into the enterprise intranet space, which requires integration with legacy systems, while Netscape?s server is stronger in the e-commerce market.
Development plans for the next version of each application server are unlikely to change, but subsequent releases will be jointly developed by both companies and a single merged offering is likely to appear in future. Both servers will also support the emerging Enterprise Java Beans standard.
While Sun gets to control the server side of the equation, it is not clear whether Netscape will do the same on the client-side, however.
Earlier this year, the firm created Mozilla.org, a semi-independent unit that was intended to be the guardian of Netscape Communicator 5?s open source code. In the wake of the merger announcement, however, Mozilla.org has affirmed its independence from Netscape, and, therefore, from AOL.
But the acquisition may ironically lead to the rebirth of Netscape?s Javagator Java-based browser that was axed earlier this year.
The three companies have said they plan to collaborate on Java-based Internet appliances to access AOL services, but spokespeople from Sun and Netscape said it was too early to say whether these Java AOL-clients would be based on Javagator, on Sun?s own HotJava browser, or another Java alternative.
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