Sun: No Rush to Open Software

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2005-12-20 Print this article Print

Sun's chief open-source officer says the company's process of open-sourcing its software stack will not be rushed and will not happen quickly.

Those who hope Sun Microsystems Inc. will open-source all of its software products anytime soon are in for a big disappointment. Sun executives, including president Jonathan Schwartz and John Loiacono, the executive vice president for software, have all repeatedly said that the Santa Clara, Calif., company intends to open-source its entire software stack over time. However, they have not been specific about the time frame for that, which has left the impression that it is imminent.
But Simon Phipps, Suns chief open-source officer, told eWEEK in an interview that this process is not going to be rushed and will not happen quickly.
"I am not going to allow us to do it too fast. We are not going to rush any of these things. This is not a token gesture. This is not the alphaWorks of 1999 where you throw it out and see if it sticks," Phipps said. "I have a DNA triangle for open source that I use to describe to people. I say that an open-source community is defined by the license it adopts; by the governance that administers it; and by the diversity of the community that populates it," he said. Citing a recent example where a member of a Sun product team had come up to him and asked to open-source the product, Phipps said: "So I asked him what license they wanted to use, and he did not know. I asked how they would create an open community and what the governance model would be, and they had not thought of this. Then I asked them how they would make money, what the business plan was. Again, they hadnt thought about it," he said. Those are the same questions he will ask any product team at Sun looking to open-source, Phipps said. "This is genuinely about building open communities with open governance and open licensing, and it is going to take as long as it takes," he said. But Sun has already moved fairly quickly along the road of either open-sourcing its software stack or making it available at no cost. Last month, it said it would make its Java Enterprise System, Sun N1 management software, and Sun developer tools available for development and deployment at no cost, while reaffirming its commitment to open-sourcing all this software over time. Click here to read more about Sun reaffirming its commitment to open-sourcing its software. Also last month, Sun officials said they would distribute and support the open-source Postgres database with the Solaris operating system, adding that Solaris ZFS, the new 128-bit file system with error detection and correction capabilities, would be integrated into OpenSolaris and Suns branded Solaris 10 in the May 2006 update. Read more here about Solaris ZFS. They also announced Sun Studio 11 and said the company will offer the development tool set free of charge to all developers. In June, Sun released components of its Java Enterprise System technology stack to the open-source community under the CDDL (Community Development and Distribution License). It released the Sun Enterprise Service Bus implementations, based on the communitys Java Business Integration specification, and its Java Systems Application Server. To read more about Suns release of components of its Java Enterprise System technology stack to the open-source community, click here. And, in the biggest open-source move the company has made so far, in June it released the long-awaited millions of lines of source code for OpenSolaris, the open-source version of its Solaris operating system, a move designed to expand the developer base for, and applications written to, that platform. Asked what Suns business model is around open source and whether this is a services play, Phipps said that one of his favorite throw-away lines is that "paying for binaries is so last millennium." "When people pay for software these days, they are not paying for binaries but rather a value proposition that has several layers. Customers are buying a value proposition that contains the same elements as it always has: code, defect resolution and a warranty and indemnity," he said. "Our customers are now mature enough to know that they are not buying a binary, and we know that they are willing to buy a subset of that value proposition and that they are willing to pay us for it," he said. The question Sun has asked itself is whom it was preventing from becoming its customers by still charging for the binary. By deciding not to charge for that, it is now in a position to start serving those who would never have been a customer before, Phipps said. Those potential customers spanned all industries, but were typically "people at a turning point, whether they have been using competitive product and are at a turning point and, as there is no license cost for the competitive product from Sun, it is now possible to do the pilot," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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