Was Jonathan Schwartz a success or failure for Sun?

Jonathan Schwartz was the public face of open source's dot-boom. Java was once seen as proprietary, that Open Office was once seen as dormant, and mySQL was once seen as Swedish.

As Jonathan Schwartz prepares to ride off into the Sun set, pony tail flying like a real western hero, it is a good time to ask the hard question.

Was he worth the trouble?

In his three-plus years at the helm Schwartz did transform the company's image. Under Scott McNealy Sun was an implacable foe of open source. Under Schwartz Sun became its best friend, so much so that open source advocates fought bitterly against its acquisition by Oracle.

It's tough to remember now that Java was once seen as proprietary, that Open Office was once seen as dormant, and that mySQL was once seen as Swedish.

It was under Schwartz that Sun paid $1 billion for the open source database company, and that remains open source's financial high water mark. But was that just like Time Warner buying AOL, the clock striking midnight on a financial bubble?

While Schwartz was dealt a very poor technology hand, it's also hard to call him a financial success. Sun continued to limp along under his leadership. He executed a 1:4 reverse stock split in 2007 but in real terms the company is worth half what it was when he took command.

It's also important to ask at this point whether Schwartz ever really ran Sun in the first place. Co-founder Scott McNealy never really left.

Was Schwartz just the public face for a strategy McNealy couldn't execute himself? McNealy had publicly descried open source for years. If he wanted to turn toward it he needed a front man. Schwartz was right out of central casting.

I think history will show that Jonathan Schwartz was the public face of an important era, open source's equivalent of the dot-boom. The Internet had its moment in the financial sun and has gone on to bigger, better things. Now so has open source.

Does that make Schwartz our Marc Andreessen or our Pets.com sock puppet?


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