Oct. 7, 2005--Sun Microsystems and Web search giant Google have taken the first step toward working together to develop software that offers businesses an alternative to Microsoft's ubiquitous applications.

The agreement between the two Silicon Valley companies, announced on Tuesday, allows Web surfers to download Sun's Java Runtime Environment, an application useful for accessing certain Web sites, along with Google's palette of search and e-mail functions.

"We're exploring many ways of working together to help businesses, large and small, conduct business better by gathering information from the Web," said Carrie Kasten, a Sun spokesperson. "We just can't discuss them at this point."

Any joint development projects, Kasten added, would be aimed at making it easier for people "to interact with each other, collaborate on projects, and share information" from anywhere in the world.

In a statement, Google and Sun referred an arrangement "to promote and enhance" Sun's OpenOffice software package, which is a separate and distinct application from Java Runtime Environment. OpenOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet tool, and presentation maker, and is an alternative to Microsoft's Office applications.

"Collaboration between Sun and Google is a credible competitive threat to Microsoft," said Whit Andrews, an analyst and research vice president at Gartner. "But Microsoft has shown for the last 10 years that they absolutely are capable of responding to competition."

Andrews said this move reflected Google's growing strategy to develop business software based on technologies such as Web search that is dominated by personal use. "What you're seeing is a continued infiltration of consumer technology into corporate IT," said Andrews.

Small businesses have the most to gain from this trend because the type of Web-based products Google would offer don't require investments in expensive hardware or software. Andrews expected Sun and Google would focus their joint development on applications designed for companies with geographically dispersed and highly mobile workforces.

According to the OpenOffice website, over 48 million people worldwide have downloaded the suite of applications since it became available in 2002. Sun is still struggling, however, to chip away at Microsoft's dominant market share. Analysts at IDC estimate that Microsoft holds upwards of 96% of the market for desktop software.

But this might change, said John Rymer, an analyst with Forrester Research, if Google were to direct its software development muscle toward improving OpenOffice.