Sun: Freebies create volume

By giving away its Java enterprise software for free, the company hopes to draw eyeballs and make money from support services.

SINGAPORE--The move by Sun Microsystems to offer its Java Enterprise System for free is aimed at helping the company create volume demand for its products.

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz announced this morning that the Java Enterprise System (JES) set of server middleware, Java development tools and N1 management software will be available for free for development and production use. The JES set of tools will also be packaged with Sun's Solaris 10 operating system to form a new product name, Solaris Enterprise System.

Speaking in a conference call with reporters from Asia, Tom Goguen, vice-president of Sun's software group said "volumes always win". The company hopes that a free product will bolster demand for its software, he said.

Sun's proprietary Solaris 8 platform, for example, only attracted "hundreds of thousands" of licensed users, Goguen said. That number is nowhere near the 3.4 million licenses that have been distributed since the company launched its free open-source Solaris 10, he said.

Goguen noted that while Sun is offering the Java Enterprise System for free, the company believes it can make money from service contracts, adding that virtually every customer needs support. "By [their company] policy, they are compelled to have a support relationship with a vendor that can support the software they're using in their enterprise," he said.

Sun has developed a number of support services over the past few years, he noted. This includes bug fixes which are automatically provided for users, as well as preventive services that monitor a customer's systems to ensure security and high availability, he explained. "That is how we will derive revenue from our software," Goguen said.

Asked about the impact of this announcement on Asian customers, he said: "In developing nations, [the move] will make sophisticated world-class software available for [Asian] businesses to take advantage of."

He added that developers in the region would be able to have free access to the software and embed or package it in their products. Administrators would also be able to use it for to support critical services across their networks, he added.

Goguen believes that offering products as free and open-source software can drive large-scale demand much more than a proprietary model.

"It would be very difficult to enter a market [with a proprietary product], when there are already many free and open-source choices," he said, noting that the open-source model has led to the success of products such as the MySQL database, where paid services are offered to support those products.

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