Sun to open up for the future

CEO Jonathan Schwartz's edict is to set free the company's technology, noting that there's no business sense to keep any of it proprietary.
Written by Jeanne Lim, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems' mandate for success is to propagate the adoption of its technology--and it can only do so by ensuring its intellectual property is freely accessible, according to CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

Speaking to international press at the JavaOne developer conference here Tuesday, Schwartz made it clear that Sun's directive is to open-source every single piece of technology that it owns--and that there can not be a middle ground.

In response to a query on how Sun decides which technology to keep proprietary and which not to, he replied: "I disagree with the premise that something has to be proprietary.

"I believe that everything Sun does can, and should be, open if we want to see it broadly adopted."

The company's open-source efforts thus far includes making the specifications for its Sparc chip and Looking Glass, a Java user interface for the desktop environment, available under the General Public License (GPL). Sun also freed up its Solaris server platform under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

Underlining the company's open-source efforts, Schwartz said: "All of that opens more market opportunity, and gives developers an opportunity to choose what they want from within Sun."

He noted that it will be only a matter of time before its popular programming language Java is going to be open source. "We're gonna pick the right license with the right community," he said.

There are three user groups to address in providing free software, Schwartz said, referring to analyses made by RedMonk software analyst Stephen O'Grady. One community consists of businesses that are not permitted to run free software without a support contract. "It's a violation of their governance model for information technology," he explained. "Most large organizations fall into that camp."

This means that when providing free software, provisions should be made for service and support contracts to cater to IT governance requirements, he noted.

Second, there is a population group in the world that will never pay for software. "My view is that [a world with] free software has no pirates," Schwartz quipped. "So let's stop calling them pirates, let's start calling them users."

The last group comprises the "crowd in the middle", or customers that might be willing to pay for software--and these are the people Sun is doing its best to influence, said Schwartz.

"So if you don't care about [widespread] adoption [of technology], free software and open-source software does you no good," he said.

"We care a lot about adoption. Adoption is what defines the economics of our business, and I don't think we have to have anything that's locked up or proprietary, in order to make money."

The future of Java
Schwartz also shared his plans for Java in the next 10 years, where Sun will be focusing on eking out an open-source future for the programming language.

"The first 10 years [of Java] was defined by relatively traditional applications of technology," he said. "In the next 10 years, it will be marked by our evolution and our integration into the open-source community--more fully and faithfully than you've seen in the first 10 years."

In addition, users are also likely to see more of Java in non-traditional network devices, such as mobile phones, and network services over the next decade--if Schwartz gets his way.

The first 10 years of the Java community was spent putting information at the center of the network, and letting the edges of the network access that information, the CEO said. The next 10 years "is all going to be about participation", he said.

Schwartz described a future where information will no longer reside only at the servers--the center of the network--but also in clients and devices at the edge of the network, including personal computers and mobile devices, which have high computing power. And information will be exchanged between these devices at the edge, as well as the center of the network, he said.

"It's a subtle shift, but it's an amazing shift when you consider the impact of citizen media, about the fact that most of these phones you have in the room aren't just used for phone calls anymore," Schwartz said. "We hope to be central in making that shift."

ZDNet Asia's Jeanne Lim reported from San Francisco.

Editorial standards