Sun Pushes Mad Hatter in Blaster Worm’s Wake

Seeking to capitalize on the public beating Microsoft’s Windows platform is taking as the Blaster worm frustrates thousands of computer users, Sun Microsystems has opened registration for its Project Mad Hatter open source desktop system.

Making no bones about the fact that the move is a response to “yet another massive security vulnerability” in various versions of Windows, Sun said Mad Hatter is inherently safer because developers engineered “security into its infrastructure from the start.”

Sun vice president Jonathan Schwartz said security is one reason why intelligence agencies, defense contractors and military units are Sun customers.

Because most other computer equipment vendors supply Microsoft products, he added, “Sun is best positioned to provide a new solution to this growing risk. It is our belief corporate America should accelerate their evaluation of alternatives to Microsoft, and it is for this reason we are opening registration for Project Mad Hatter.”

Microsoft could not be reached immediately to comment on the move. Apart from issuing a fix for the RPC flaw that Blaster exploits and urging users to implement it, the software maker has been largely mum on the issue.

At an Australian trade show this week, however, Microsoft’s chief security strategist reportedly told a crowd that many of the security and stability issues in Windows stem from third-party code integrated into the operating system.

High Hopes

Sun formally unveiled Project Mad Hatter earlier this month at a Linux conference. Analysts say the program’s interoperability and intuitive interface could give it legs as the first truly viable desktop platform for the open source OS. The online registration process will give customers a heads-up when Sun unveils Mad Hatter products, which is expected to happen next month.

Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook said Sun must strike quickly to capture an emerging market, although concerns about Linux, which stem from a spate of lawsuits and countersuits being filed by SCO and its opponents, might complicate the situation. “There are a certain number of people who are actively seeking an alternative,” Claybrook told the E-Commerce Times. “And there may be some for whom security is a major driver.”

Even if Sun hits a home run with Mad Hatter and, by extension, wins more customers for its StarOffice productivity suite, it is still likely to remain in the single digits in terms of desktop market share, analysts say.

Mixed Results

Meanwhile, it is unclear whether the Blaster worm — or other recent Microsoft flaws that have caused havoc, such as the SQL Slammer worm in January — will be enough to tip the scales away from Microsoft.

Although tens of thousands of computer users have been affected, and state agencies in Massachusetts and Maryland have had to shut down their computer systems to apply fixes, the worm’s overall effect on the Internet backbone has been minimal to date.

Web performance measurement firm Keynote Systems on Wednesday reported “no notable impacts on Internet backbones” from the worm’s spread. However, Keynote and other firms are warning that when the worm carries out its intended final denial-of-service attack on the Windows Update site later this week, considerable slowdowns are possible.

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