Here's one way to think about the alliance announced last week between Sun Microsystems and Google: no more attachments. The two Silicon Valley...

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Here’s one way to think about the alliance announced last week between Sun Microsystems and Google: no more attachments.

The two Silicon Valley icons left a lot to speculation with their pledge to work together on Java-related technologies (Google also will buy a lot of Sun hardware). Much of the buzz was over a potential “Google Office” — an environment blending the applications of Sun’s OpenOffice (a Microsoft Office clone) with the Web’s instant-click network power. But God — or is it the devil? — is in the details. In this case, maybe both, with Google and Microsoft (you can assign either role to the party of your choice) wrestling over how best to migrate desktop-computer functionality to the Web.

If you search the Web for documents, you’ll find a lot of Adobe .PDFs — portable document files. You’ll find comparatively few Microsoft .DOC, XLS or other Office files.

The reason: Adobe files, once you download its free reader, show up automatically on any computer. With Microsoft files, you must have a copy of each Office application installed on your PC.

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Many, but not all, PCs have Office — the reason being because they have to. If there were an alternative — as Mozilla Firefox and other browsers have shown to be the case with Internet Explorer, and iTunes with Windows Media Player — at least a certain number of users would adopt it.

Another reason Adobe .PDFs are popular is because they’re secure. The use of .PDFs first spiked upward once Word files became associated with viruses on the Web.

Finally, Adobe files always look the same. Fonts, spacing and other formats do not change annoyingly from one computer to the next.

Making Microsoft files as secure as .PDFs could solidify Office’s role as the application of choice on the Web. Note that Microsoft, the day before the Sun-Google announcement, said it will offer the ability to save files as .PDFs in its forthcoming Office 12.

How does this relate to attachments? With robust security, an editable document or spreadsheet could open simply by clicking on an e-mail (or browser, for that matter). This happens all the time with photos, video clips, songs, podcasts and other generic formats. The only reason it doesn’t happen with Office files is that Microsoft, historically at least, hasn’t wanted it to happen.

All that may be changing as Microsoft moves to its next version of Windows (Vista). If it is, Sun and Google know it.

The most encouraging aspect of the Google-Sun announcement was its understatement. Sun has wasted enormous energy in the past promising to bury Microsoft, and now Microsoft may be following the same path with talk of killing Google.

Google itself seems more focused on building a better, richer Web — a positive energy flow that so far has worked pretty well.