I was talking with John Loiacono, executive vice president of software at Sun, about the roadmap for open sourcing Sun's software and how Sun profits from the strategy. At the root of the strategy is Sun's belief that whoever has the developers, gets the applications, which begets customers, which drive revenues. Sound familiar?
How to get the much desired developers? According to Loiacono, make it easy for every developer to get access to the technology, which means make it free and open for programmers to experiment with the code, doing commercial proof-of-concept projects or academic research. If commercial entities want to deploy it, they can do whatever they want with open source code, but will likely want indemnification, support, integration help or consulting services from Sun in the form of a subscription fee. For non-open source Sun software with different license covenants than open source, customers would also want the subscription services Sun offers, according to the theory.
Sun will sell you a mail server and thousands of mail boxes, a communications suite for $50 per employee per year, a full enterprise suite with per employee or citizen pricing or $1 per CPU hour, Loiacono told me. It's a complete menu of services from which customers can choose a la carte or from a range of prefixed menu choices. Sun doesn't have all the pieces yet--systems management is lacking, for example, but it has been acquiring and building six integrated software infrastructure suites that drink from the SOA and Web services fountain over the last few years.
Sun officials have said that the goal is to make all Sun software open source over time, but no timetable has been set. According to Sun software CTO Hal Stern, it's a bottoms up approach, starting with Solaris 10, the app server, and integration bus and working up the stack. Directory, portal, proxy and Web server will follow, and then identity management, access, auditing and federation, he said. More functionality will be driven down the stack and become part of the operating system, which Loiacono called "technology sedimenting in the OS." Sun is even thinking about a low end open source database (meaning not competitive with Oracle, DB2, SQL Server, Sybase) project to satisfy what Loiacono called customer demand.
Given that proprietary software is becoming less dominant, and open source is ascending in different parts of the stack, Sun’s strategy is practical—as well as a natural evolution of the company’s BSD, NFS open roots. *In fact, “free” software has become Sun’s latest mantra, as a way to nurture the market for its products, especially in emerging markets that are still relatively wide open and growing fast. Certainly, open sourcing floats all boats in the software community, bringing more developers into the Java fold, potentially away from Microsoft platforms. Sun seems confident that its implementations will lead in price, quality and innovation. But, whether “free” will attract developers and convert them into loyalists supporting a Sun ecosystem (not just Java) that will turn around the company's fortunes is a question mark.
*Updated 10:27AM 6/29/05