Sun Microsystems has pulled off a huge coup in signing a deal with the Chinese government for up to a million Linux desktops over the next year.
Sun's CEO unveiled the announcement at his keynote speech at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas on Monday. He acknowledged how capturing a slice of the massive and lucrative - but mostly closed - Chinese market is.
"It makes us instantly the number one Linux desktop player with our first big customer," he said.
The Chinese government deal is part of Sun's push for what it calls the 'Java Desktop System' based on networked thin-client computing that McNealy claims will lower the cost of using an operating systems and an office software suite to $50 per employee per year. He said for $150, users will be able to get a complete Java web services environment and desktop system.
The desktop system package includes the operating system, a browser, StarOffice, email and other Java applications and can run on Solaris, SuSE Linux and Red Hat Linux. It includes the operating system, a browser, StarOffice, an email client and numerous third-party applications written in Java, Sun's popular programming language.
The Chinese deal, however, is based around a custom Linux Standards Base-compliant Linux operating system that will be supported by the Chinese government and its IT partners.
In the Java Desktop System, employees access their own 'desktop environment' using a secure Java card. McNealy said Sun is looking at a broadband version for home users and a Wi-Fi version using a thin client laptop with just a display, keyboard and network port.
"The killer app is mobile with security," said McNealy. "All the new wireless devices are very portable computing environments."
Attacking complexity - and Microsoft - was the overriding theme of McNealy's speech, and while his often-used 'jalopy' analogy was left out, car and golf references still featured heavily.
"Complexity drives an immense amount of cost. You can switch from a Ford to a Chevy as easily as you can switch from Windows to this desktop."
Explaining Sun's move to quarterly releases for customers he said: "That's how we did it in the automobile industry when I grew up in Detroit."
McNealy also brought AMD's CEO Dr Hector Ruiz on stage to announce a deal that will see Sun support the chip manufacturer's Opteron processor for its x86 high-end servers that will appear in the first half of next year.