Linux in Government: Linux Desktop Reviews, Part 4 - JDS

Trying to get a feel for Sun's Linux Java Desktop System.

During the launch of Sun's Java Desktop System (JDS), the company touted its product as a real alternative to Microsoft Windows. During an interview, Peder Ulander, the then director of marketing for the Desktop Solutions team at Sun, said, "The Java Desktop System is a comprehensive and secure enterprise desktop environment that runs on Solaris and Linux. It provides the enterprise with the first viable alternative to Windows in 15 years, by offering a complete feature set at a fraction of the cost of a Windows upgrade."

Peder also said:

From the perspective of a feature-to-feature comparison, we offer more than a traditional Microsoft solution, since we are integrating applications such as StarOffice and an email and collaboration program. These services cost an additional $600 on a Windows platform. At the end of the day, we focused on building a complete solution that would enable CIOs to easily migrate their transactional and knowledge workers from their existing solution to a more open, secure, and cost-effective alternative. We have integrated the major application components, made the desktop extremely intuitive and easy to use, and leveraged the security of a UNIX-based operating environment. This saves CIOs money both in Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and Total Cost of Acquisition (TCA).

Fifteen months later, we have not seen the market embrace Sun's entry. Is JDS, in fact, ready as an enterprise desktop? Have other factors interfered with Sun's marketing efforts? Let's take a look.

Business Model

As Peder indicated in the quote above, the Java Desktop System runs on Solaris and Linux. At the time of that article, however, Sun had released only JDS for Linux. Most analysts therefore believed Sun planned a Linux strategy with JDS. Many of Sun's Reseller partners also viewed JDS as a Linux strategy.

In actuality, Sun's enterprise desktop strategy involves an infrastructure change. To make money, Sun has to move hardware. Sun first and foremost is a hardware company, and its operating systems exists mainly to sell hardware. Similar statements have been made about Apple's software--it exists only to move hardware.

If you contact Sun about its alternate desktop, the company is likely to present you with a proposal to move from standard PC hardware to its Ray thin client infrastructure. You can find Ray client-server information on Sun's solution page. Ray thin client hardware is one of Sun's major lines of business.

A Confusing Proposition?

When you connect the dots, Sun's Ray opportunity appears chaotic. Let's look at some inconsistencies in what the company says and does. First, to use the Sun Ray system, you need a server-level computer and an operating system that can support the Sun Ray 3.0 server-side software. The workstations connected to the server hardware do not run copies of the operating system or any other software. They are stateless and consist primarily of a monitor, a keyboard and a mouse. The server runs the operating system and the Sun Ray Server 3.0 software. The server-side software paints the pixels on the thin-client monitors, and users thinks they are using a full-fledged PC.

The current version, Sun Ray Server Software 3.0, runs with UltraSPARC servers using Solaris 8, Solaris 9 and/or Trusted Solaris 8. Solaris 10 does not support the Sun Ray server-side software. These Solaris versions require UltraSPARC processors; Solaris x86 does not support the Sun Ray 3.0 server-side software.

Sun Ray Server 3.0 also runs on x86 processor computers running three operating systems: Sun's Linux JDS operating system Release 2, Red Hat Enterprise Server AS 3 and SUSE Enterprise Linux 8, all in 32 bit mode. Sun's Linux JDS Release 2 supports the Sun Ray server-side software. Release 3 of the Linux JDS is slated for launch later in 2005, but it does not support the Ray server-side software as it is based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server version 9.

Running Sun Rays

To use the Sun Ray server, one has to configure a supported hardware platform, load one of the supported operating systems mentioned above and install the Sun Ray Server 3.0 software product. The Sun Ray Server 3.0 uses the underlying operating system to paint the thin client desktop. So, if you use Solaris 9, users see only the older GNOME 1.4 or 2.0 desktop--not JDS. If you use Linux JDS Release 2, the Sun Ray Server 3.0 paints the thin client monitors with JDS R2. Note: Linux JDS R2 uses SUSE Linux Enterprise Server version 8.0.

Now one can see why Sun had to use the SUSE Linux Enterprise Server when building its enterprise desktop. You need a server-class product to power the Sun Ray thin clients. On a single-user machine, Linux JDS might seem like overkill. Just consider it a powerful Linux workstation.



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Sun's response

Anonymous's picture

Dan Baigent has written a response to this article here.

Sun's response

Anonymous's picture

I worked with Tom when he was the lead analyst on during the Linux IPO's. Some companies, like SCO, complained when he made his analysis of their business. It often involved the show's management having to review his assessments - and I laughed alot because he was always correct. To witt, SCO now.

I read Mr. Baigent's response and thought he made a thoughtful and intelligent argument. I then got interested and read further into his blog until I ran into this entry which (as typical of Tom's assessments) might just demonstrate the state of affairs in the Sun world.

Baigent: February 22nd

"Since August, I've gone through 2 additional re-orgs (on top of the one that happened in July), so I now work for my fourth boss in almost as many months. And we've managed to complete the integration of JDS into the Solaris WoS ("Wad of Stuff") - no small task. And our Linux version is in the middle of an extensive and lively beta."

It's really to bad that a cou

Anonymous's picture

It's really to bad that a couple of JDS zealots continue to bash this author wherever he goes just because he wrote an article that they did not like about their beloved operating system. Get over it.


Linda Garner's picture

In the end it is all a matter of flavour, what desktop the people use, or not. I personally don't care, what desktop I use - but I know people that would not get away from their Windows because their games do not look the same on Linux-Machines.

Talking out of both ends ....

Anonymous's picture

I guess I am confused. Specific to a claim made by the author and his group on,

"The founders of consider the Java Desktop System the best all-around PC operating system ever built. We want to insure JDS becomes known to our friends, family, co-workers and political representatives. We believe Sun Microsystems has a great roadmap and a wonderful future. We hope you share our vision and wish to participate with us."

( #1 and #2 make up Hiser+Adelstein)

the author also went on to write a complete book on the JDS product (hinting at it's product superiority through some passages)

It sounds like the author agreed 150% with the original statements on JDS when launched and now he is on a full offensive against it ..

Why the sudden disassociation? Did he not mean his original words? I'm guessing we'll see another Linux Desktop book ... Exploring the (insert: Novell, Lindows, Red Hat, Debian, Gentoo) Linux Desktop


Ralph's picture

It looks to me like there is a disconinuity, but not the one you seem to see. Look at the time frames involved. Think about what Sun was saying and doing at the time the book came out. The web site goes along with the book. The content on it was written a while back, I expect and I believe it will change. Now look at Sun's recent treatment of Linux. Sun has changed, and Tom reflects that change in what he wrote. So, Tom is being consistent with the promotion of free software. Sun is not and they are the source of the discontinuity. At least, thet is how I see it.

Talking out of both ends ....

Anonymous's picture

Is it me or does this post look like one of those trials where the plantiff gets attacked. The guy says that when the product came out it was highly touted and today it's old. That's like - I bought a new car 15 months ago and they came out with the same thing - only it's cheaper and has more air bags and safety features and a bigger engine and gets more gas mileage - and I'm upside down on my car loan.

Hey - I can get it. He liked your product when it came out. He didn't say he didn't like it. He said, where's the newer Linux distribution and where's Solaris10 which you guys brag about ad nausea.

If anyone talks out of both ends it's Baby Face Schwartz who says let's kill Red Hat and then sells Red Hat.

Oh, and then what about your love fest with McNeally and Baumer.

Talling out of both ends? The New Sun! Like the new HP - maybe McNeally and Scwartz will get the boot like that gal at HP.

Talking out of both ends ....

Anonymous's picture

Looks like he was a bit of a prophetic one. Now, Sun says they have no plans to continue on with Linux. Hmmm. And only 90 days later.

Mixed questions result in mixed answers

Anonymous's picture

The questions posed here seem to be looking for one answer to multiple questions. Sun's strategy seems clear - provide both hardware and softwre solutions to meet a variety of customer requirements. This means that JDS runs on Solaris and Linux (it is not exclusively available on one or the other). It also means that the Sun Ray supports and displays multiple OSes including JDS (Solaris and Linux), Red Hat, Novell and even MS Windows. Dig another layer deeper and you'll find that Sun also supports StarOffice and desktop Java (J2SE) on Windows. Does this mean a confused strategy or a comprehensive one?

JDS can empower enterprise cu

Anonymous's picture

JDS can empower enterprise customers to:

1) Get out of the Microsoft upgrade trap.
2) Get out of the PC hardware upgrade trap. Reuse existing PC hardware until it dies.
3) If appropriate, migrate to SunRay appliances when the PC hardware dies.
4) Freely choose between Linux and Solaris as a base O.S.

All of these choices can be made without impacting the end user experience. JDS is about returning choice to the consume. Single user linux, multi user Solaris, thin client, thick client. The customer should be able to choose the solution which fits best.

I question the accuracy of some statements in your article, are they based on limitations found in the JDS3 beta or do you have intimate knowledge of features and support of products which have not yet been released?

Mixed questions result in mixed answers

tadelste's picture


Another view from the author

Anonymous's picture

Another view from the author dated 15 Nov 2004 - Talk about confusing!!!

When I went to read the threa

Anonymous's picture

When I went to read the thread I’ve noticed that the author has removed all his post from that thread, why is that? Although you can see from the quotations on another couple of posts in that thread that the author stated (I think it will be so far ahead of the game, neither RH or SuSE can keep up.) humm

I also read the article and I read the rest of the threads but I must admit I am not confused anymore, I came to a conclusion that perhaps for some people the truth only lays where the money goes, when the authors wrote the JDS book (Good book if I may say so) there was money to be made so although speaking the truth at the time I don’t think it fits their bill anymore, The book has passed it’s sale’s pick so they need to move on to the next thing that makes them money, regardless of what needs to be said, published or done also regardless of the consequences their lies may cause. So conclusion is if you pay them money they’ll be your best friends, stop paying them and they go to your rivals walking over you on the way.

I just think that what comes around goes around.

When I went to read the threa

Anonymous's picture

You couldn't be any more obvious. So you read the author's book? You then attack Tom rather than deal with the issues raised in article. You assign motives to him and lay down a cliche or two.

Personally, it appears he was generous with Sun's products and startegies. After reading the article, I came away with the feeling he wanted the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Here's my conclusions: if he's correct and people should do their own due diligence, you appear to be behind on your schedule. Novell Desktop using SLES 9 came out six months ago. Where's Sun newer version? Why isn't you thin client server available on Solaris 10? You either plan poorly or can't execute.

Give us a break.

Load of crap from a bitter author ...

Anonymous's picture

Ok .. let's deal with the topics in the article.

Section 1: Tom bags on the success of JDS, saying that it never filled on its promise. Yet, on his website, he claims that:

"Sun's Javaâ„¢ Desktop System (JDS), a complete distribution of the GNU/Linux operating system, became available for the first time in December 2003. While other distributors focused on Linux in the server space, Sun brought out the first desktop to compete with Microsoft Windows in 15 years. JDS enjoyed a miraculous reception in the market. Within the first three weeks of its release, JDS became profitable and recouped all its Research & Development costs proving a pent-up demand existed for an alternative desktop to those offered in the market"

He made the very same statements that Sun did, and then claimed the tremendous success of the product - yet here it says it has had no success. Which is it?

Section 2: Tom claims that Sun's b-model requires an infrastructure play - BS! Customers can buy StarOffice for any platform (no infrastructure here), or they can buy JDS stand alone for x86 systems (still no infrastructure requirement), or they can buy a Sun Ray with JDS (here infrastructure is an option for customer interested in thin clients, but it is not required for purchase of JDS

Section 3,4,5: You would think this was a review of the Sun Ray. I though the review was on Linux Desktops. Why is JDS not the review point? You mention one feature that is not there (SAMBA 3) but that is your only gripe about JDS specific ... everything else is about the Sun Ray. Sun should take you off the Beta list!!

Section 6 is just an FAQ, no value add or issues raised from the author there

And the final notes .. there is no room to come to the readers own colclusion - Tom makes it for them. Biased and bitter he claims the messages are inconsistent (just as inconsistent as his messages about the product and his activities around and that O'Reily book).

Sad thing is, I was really digging these segments on the Linux desktop as I have a lot of interest in the space. We have moved this direction in a couple of test deployments in my company and I was using these articles as a guidance to see where the + and -'s are. This segment blew it for me as it showed me someone who was more biased and bitter about something and didn't actually review the product --- just flamed Sun on the fact that they have a business to run.

Complete load of crap ....

Trolls and Flames disguised as comments

tadelste's picture

As someone pointed out earlier, rather than dealing with the analysis of Sun's business model, the writer gets flamed. Some might consider it a "kill the messenger" syndrome.

Emotions run high when employee layoffs keep an organization in turmoil. You want to believe that your commander and chief is leading you down the correct path. Your job in a slow economy looks shaky.

The original team that brought JDS to market including Peder and Curtis are gone. The JDS group has had three new bosses in a year and have been shifted to another division - Desktop and Mobility. For several months, JDS had no support.

The article speaks for itself and focuses on the measurable comparisons that we can utilize in the final article which puts the features of each enterprise desktop into a matrix.

Most analysts would come to the same conclusions about JDS - if you are considering it use care and do your due diligence. Are you being presented with an infrastructure change? If so, what will the hardware run? Is it optimal?

Sun and its iForce Partners are pushing Sun Rays. That's their current strategy and its verified and verifiable. Wouldn't you want to know what runs on that infrastructure?

Sun's COO says the company is targeting Red Hat. If presented with a Red Hat solution on Sun hardware wouldn't you want to know the condition of the vendor relationship?

The indignant flames and characterizations of the author demonstrate the type of individuals people can expect to deal with when working with the company in question.

People want to know that too, I suppose.

My response

dbaigent's picture

Please see my response where I address the issues raised in this article.

My response

Anonymous's picture

Your response is the top post and the bottom post?

I suppose you wanted the last say eh.

You call it a response? It's a blog entry. A blog entry from Sun is a party line propaganda statement. Besides, it makes zero sense. You may understand the references - by I doubt people outside your close circle of friends would understand. It's not like Sun products or services are household words. Who cares what a Sun Ray (sic) is any way. It's a PS/2 as far as I'm concerned. The only people who bought PS/2's were IBM's employees.

Sun may have been special during the formulation of the Internet - when you had the slogan that you were the dot in dot com. But, you're fairly suspect today. Nothing new or important seems to emerge from the remaining people at Sun. All the brilliant people have left. I guess that's why you're still there eh

Maybe something will break for you - miracles happen.

But to say Tom is confused - well that's a serious stretch. Most of the community wondered what he saw in Sun. He kept saying that Sun needed a seriously large vendor with no ties to Microsoft to push the Linux desktop. I guess when McNeally tied the knot with Bill - that was the end of that.

It may not matter, but I don't agree with your POV. And I'd bet neither does the market.

Another view from the author

tadelste's picture

Please read Part II of this series to get a current view of Novell's desktop.