Google and Sun yesterday unveiled a partnership to distribute the Google toolbar with the JRE (Java Runtime Environment), but stopped short of revealing any future plans to bring Sun applications such as the StarOffice productivity suite to the web through Google services.

That does not mean that the union still won't pose a problem for the companies' common rival Microsoft, as both Sun and Google executives hinted that it's likely at some point they will jointly provide applications as services, a plan Microsoft also has in the works, analysts said.

At a press conference in Mountain View, California, yesterday, Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and Sun CEO Scott McNealy unveiled a deal between the companies that they said will start with the marriage of the Google desktop and Java, and expand in any number of directions. Sun plans to make available a version of the JRE including the Google toolbar in the next 30 days.

"We want to leverage the network economics [with] a very strategic partnership to promote the Java Runtime Environment and the Google toolbar," McNealy said at the event at the Computer History Museum yesterday morning. "Going forward there's lots more we can do. They have a lot of smart folks at Google ... This is a very natural partnership. There's going to be a lot of money following if we do this thing right."

While a press statement said that Google also is exploring options to expand distribution of & – the open-source suite on which Sun's StarOffice is built – executives did not elaborate on how this would be done.

Schmidt, McNealy and Sun President Jonathan Schwartz, who joined the two CEOs on stage to field questions after the press conference, only alluded to future plans the companies may have to deliver software such as as a service on a joint network built using Sun infrastructure, the news that many analysts and industry-watchers believed would be the focus of yesterday's event.

Sun and Google also declined to admit their union was designed to compete better with Microsoft, a chief rival for both Google and Sun.

Sun's Schwartz said that the partnership was not intended to highlight two companies' coming together to fight a common enemy, but to illustrate how they are uniting on common goals.

"It's not about who we're against, it's what we're for," he said. "There is plenty of commentary on the internet about who is going to be sensitive to our partnership. To me the one marketplace I'm focused on is customers, not Microsoft... Freeing the internet or lowering costs and driving participation are all value propositions for the customer."