Sun Microsystems, a leader in the Unix server market, and its partner, Innovative Information Systems (IIS), have announced a programme to support developers in the Greater China region. It will consist of an online forum and a hotline, both of which will operate in English and Chinese. Stephen Furney-Howe, Sun's iPlanet vice-president for Asia-Pacific, described the project as a 'pioneering developer's support programme in the Greater China market'. 'This programme is part of our strategic investments in supporting the needs of the developer communities in Hong Kong and the mainland, and through it we have been able to provide developers with the support and back-up they need in a simple, direct and easy-to-access way,' he said. IIS, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Itochu, said it was already seeing the programme as a success. IIS president Harumi Ito said: 'We are already receiving positive feedback from developers at our partners' locations. There are many informal forums on the Internet, but what makes ours unique is that we offer the professional advice and counsel of qualified engineers.' By basing its software solutions on open standards through the Sun One (Open Net Environment) platform, Sun believes it can help enterprises deploy complex Web-based software solutions more quickly. Apart from operating system software and the massively popular programming language, Java, Sun is not considered to be a software company. But Mr Furney-Howe still felt Sun had a good chance. 'When you have an open developer environment, you have the world to help,' he said. Sun is positioning itself as an even better partner than the traditional software houses. It already partners with companies such as BEA and Oracle to allow customers to choose 'the best of breed', or the software they feel will meet their particular needs. Sun is relying on the fact that many companies come to it looking for high-end solutions. Until recently, Sun has had to tell the customer to go elsewhere. Sending customers away is never a good idea. Much publicity has been generated by Microsoft and IBM in the Web services area, but Mr Furney-Howe was unconcerned. 'Microsoft may do well in the small and medium enterprise [SME] space, which is their strength. Our strength has always been with large enterprises. Of course, how you define 'large' and 'SME' can change.' Sun was working with open standards, something he said people might be tired of hearing about, but the firm had pioneered these standards 20 years ago when it gave away its network file system with its operating system, thus paving the way for global interconnectivity. China would be well worth watching, said Mr Furney-Howe. China was intent on developing a domestic software industry and was making great strides, he said. 'There are 40,000 developers in Xian alone.' With Sun One, Mr Furney-Howe believes Sun can help China in its quest to create that industry. The products that make up the Sun One platform have been around for a while. 'Sun One is not just a vision, it has three, four and five generations of products,' he said. Sun will be relying on its excellent relationship with the worldwide Java developer community to push the Sun One platform. In an open standards environment, the developers have a choice. Mr Furney-Howe is happy with that. 'May the best man win,' he said.