Sun Microsystems Inc. wants to help banks develop applications for open networks without changing their existing technology.

With Sun Connect, being unveiled today at a Securities Industry Association conference in New York, the workstation manufacturer is offering a bundle of software development tools, services, and other resources for delivering financial services securely over the Internet.

This program will help Sun spread its expertise from capital markets and investment banking into retail banking, wholesale banking, and insurance, said Robert J. Hall, vice president of worldwide financial services.

Mr. Hall said Sun Connect would support industry-developed specifications for on-line transactions, including the Open Financial Exchange's home banking standard and the Financial Services Technology Consortium's E-check.

A combination of existing Sun products and software from business partners "allows a bank to keep its investment in existing technology" as new networking capabilities open up, Mr. Hall said.

Building bridges between emerging delivery channels and older legacy systems can be a taxing experience. Sun contends banks can overcome those problems by developing applications using the Java computer language, which is "platform independent."

Software from BEA Systems of Sunnyvale, Calif., and New Era of Networks Inc., Englewood, Colo., will be used to "actually connect devices on the front end, whether they be automated teller machines or World Wide Web computing frameworks, to legacy systems," said James E. Bressler, global marketing manager for retail delivery systems at Sun.

BEA Systems' Tuxedo system will provide connections among a bank's different hardware platforms, Mr. Bressler said. New Era of Networks, commonly known as Neon, will provide Neonet, an application that translates between the legacy systems and any applications being run, Mr. Bressler said.

"Once I've built a link from any Sun Connect platform to any legacy system, that link is reusable," Mr. Bressler said.

Sun's approach will enable banks to serve a new class of customers who are technologically savvy and have high incomes, Mr. Hall said. This group will be "a new asset base that might prefer electronic communication," he added.

He said the architecture can also help banks provide a consistent "look and feel" across all electronic channels, enhancing brand identity. "Java has a role to play in providing a consistent customer environment," Mr. Hall said.

"There is no reason you couldn't do that with a Web browser as well," said Tony Iams, an analyst at D.H. Brown & Associates, a Port Chester, N.Y.-based technology assessment firm.

However, due to the "write once, run anywhere" nature of Java, a bank could create a single customer interface that could be used in, say, ATMs, kiosks, and on-line banking, Mr. Hall said.

A benefit of Java is that a bank can deliver on-line tools such as mortgage calculators without having to worry about what type of computer system the customer has, Mr. Iams said.

Sun also seems eager to assure bankers about its systems' ability to make Internet transactions secure. "We know how to create secure networks," Mr. Hall said.

Others agree."Right now, the security capabilities inside of Java are superior to things like (Microsoft Corp.'s) Active-X and NT," said Jay R. Bretzmann, vice president of worldwide systems research at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

Those capabilities include SunScreen, a "super firewall" over and above existing Java features. Mr. Hall said it makes possible a "secured pipe" for communications between the bank and its customers.

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