Sun Microsystems Inc. also is joining the $7.5 million project at the University of California, Berkeley. The Reliable, Adaptive and Distributed Systems, or RAD, lab was scheduled to open Thursday and will dole out $1.5 million annually over five years, with each company contributing equally.
Staffed initially by six UC Berkeley faculty members and 10 computer science graduates, the lab plans to develop an array of Web-based software services that will be given away to anyone who wants it.
Conceivably, the lab's services could help launch another revolutionary company like online auctioneer eBay Inc. or even Google, which has emerged as one of the world's most valuable companies just seven years after its inception in a Silicon Valley garage.
"It's interesting to have Google as one of the founding investors because one of the big questions (the RAD lab is trying to address) is, 'How do you get the next Google out there?"' said Greg Papadopoulos, Sun's chief technology officer.
The lab already has created something highly unusual - a bond between Google, the maker of the Internet's most popular search engine, and Microsoft, the world's largest software maker.
The two are fierce rivals in search, and their behind-the-scenes rancor has been publicly aired in a recent Washington state court battle triggered by Google's recent raids on Microsoft's work force.
David Patterson, a UC Berkeley professor who will be the lab's director, said he was initially was worried about the friction, but "everybody was pretty mature about it."
Microsoft senior researcher James Larus said the collaboration on RAD shouldn't be seen as a truce.
"We are not going into this with the idea that we are going to be collaborating with Google or that they will be collaborating with us," said Larus, who will be Microsoft's primary liaison with the RAD lab.
In a statement, Google said it's excited to be involved in the lab and looks "forward to the exciting ideas and technology that will be developed there."
Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems also has had a prickly relationship with Microsoft, although they have been getting along better since Microsoft last year paid Sun $1.6 billion to settle antitrust and patent infringement lawsuits.
Sun and Google are highly collegial. In October, they formed a partnership to develop more software tools that might pose a threat to Microsoft's dominant Office suite of word processing and spreadsheet applications.
UC Berkeley and other universities increasingly are turning to the private sector to help offset declines in spending by the federal government. Earlier this year, UC Berkeley stuck a deal with Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. to open a research laboratory devoted to online search.
High-tech companies have a huge incentive to help make up for lost government funding, said Larus, who got his doctorate from UC Berkeley.
"We realize if research isn't being done in university laboratories," he said, "then the pipeline of ideas and computer science graduates coming into our companies eventually is going to dry up."
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