Open source 'is free like a puppy is free' says Sun boss

Open source 'is free like a puppy is free' says Sun boss

Summary: Scott McNealy defended his company's purchase of StorageTek, and laid into some old and new targets, at a Sun event in Scotland


Sun chief executive Scott McNealy was on scathing form this week at a conference to extol the virtues of green IT and sustainable computing.

Speaking at the Executive Forum event just outside Glasgow, Scotland, McNealy was his typically rambunctious self, adding grid computing and open source to the usual industry hit-list that traditionally includes Sun rivals IBM and Microsoft.

Commenting on Sun's $4.1bn (£2.4bn) acquisition of tape-specialist StorageTek last week, McNealy hit back at analysts who claimed that the move wasn't decisive enough to improve the company's flat performance.

"People say, "Tape is kind of boring". Well, I say go in and tell your customer that you have lost their back-up tapes and you'll see excitement pretty quickly," he said.

However the Sun boss did admit that StorageTek's massive price tag had stung the company slightly. "We did have $7.4bn in the bank until the StorageTek deal. They burnt a little hole in our pockets there."

McNealy said that the move would enable Sun to offer a more complete storage management service to customers than any of its rivals and the StorageTek products would fit with Sun's existing hierarchical storage management software."You can buy the piston ring from EMC or you can go to Sun and buy the whole truck," he said.

McNealy, a car enthusiast who named his children after makes of automobiles, often uses automotive analogies to explain what is wrong with the computer industry and how it can be solved by Sun's approach to utility computing.

McNealy claims companies should look to use grids of virtual computers for their processing needs and hosted applications instead of the current situation where businesses spend millions on bespoke technology. The difference, he claims, is between delivery a parcel by building a van from scratch or using FedEX.

Next on the hit list was open source, with McNealy attacking the widely held view that the Linux operating system is cheap compared with Sun's own Solaris OS or Microsoft's Windows, or even free. "Open source is free like a puppy is free," he quipped, hinting at long-term costs and hassles, and occasional clean-up jobs. This is despite the fact that Sun recently began releasing Solaris under an open source licence.

Sun is also keen to be seen as leading player in grid computing -- where computing power is shared by multiple users over an extended network -- but McNealy wasn't afraid of making some digs about the latest technological trend.

"Grid is the new term for computing environment. If you want to be cool then just say 'grid' and wear a pony tail," he quipped.

Sun turned on its Sun Grid, a large pay-as-you-go computing grid, at its company HQ recently and discussed how grid computing will transform the computing world. In the Sun Grid, consumers pay $1 for each CPU-hour and then run their computing problems on a bank of servers and storage systems owned and maintained by Sun.

McNealy's grid comments may also have been a secret dig at McNealy's second-in-command Jonathan Schwartz -- known within the company for his ponytail -- whose is widely tipped to become McNealy's successor when the Sun veteran finally retires.

Commenting on the old enemy Microsoft, the tone was fairly conciliatory with McNealy showing a picture of himself shaking hands with Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer. Sun and Microsoft signed a deal last year.

However the Sun boss couldn't resist a small dig, claiming that technology existed for companies to ease the migration from Microsoft systems by running Windows on Sun's thin client hardware. "You can move to thin clients without having to go cold turkey. Think of it as methadone," he said.

Topics: Apps, Software Development

Andrew Donoghue

About Andrew Donoghue

"If I'd written all the truth I knew for the past ten years, about 600 people - including me - would be rotting in prison cells from Rio to Seattle today. Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism."

Hunter S. Thompson

Andrew Donoghue is a freelance technology and business journalist with over ten years on leading titles such as Computing, SC Magazine, BusinessGreen and

Specialising in sustainable IT and technology in the developing world, he has reported and volunteered on African aid projects, as well as working with charitable organisations such as the UN Foundation and Computer Aid.

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  • Linux is free like a puppy? yes a cross-breed or mongrel and Microsoft is positioning Windows like a pedigree, Solaris falls somewhere between the two.

    Like many Pedigree's, Windows costs a fortune to buy, is prone to disease and infection, suffers from hereditory health problems, needs house training, and must be constantly groomed and pampered to keep in "show ready" condition. And like most tempremental breeds friendly most of the time, but prone to lapses where he will bite anyone in reach...

    Linux on the other hand is the "ugly duckling" sitting in the pound, a friendly little rogue; a hardy little tike who rarely catches a cold, let alone something more serious. His looks take a little getting used to, but in the long run he is a lovable pup who, although he might make a mess on the carpet every now and then until he is house broken, will be faithful and friendly.

    Solaris (and Unix in general) sits somewhere between the two. It has a good pedigree, but it isn't so interbred that it is prone to the hererditory or health problems that Windows is, it is as faithful (or maybe more so) in everyday service as the Linux mongrel.

    Because of its pedigree, Solaris looks cleaner and more polished than the mongrel, although in day-to-day use, most people wouldn't notice a difference, the administrator will warm to his support tools though ;-)
  • The MS puppy is neutered, and can't breed. The free puppy still has its nuts, and will happily sire a litter of vigorous bastards for you.
  • The "free" in "Free Software" refers to freedom, not price. Sun and Microsoft try to confuse people about that, at every opportunity. That's what he's doing here.
  • This puppy will grow into a big, strong dog.
    I think people saying this kind of things (like Sun boss did) are really concened about what can a big free dog do with their faggy dachshunds. :-p