Sun Puts Wrapping On Unwrapped Open Source

By Tom Steinert-Threlkeld  |  Posted 2003-09-15 Print this article Print

Scott McNealy likened freely distributed open-source code to "unwrapped software." In an interview with Baseline magazine, McNealy said the advent of free software can be more costly than custom code written for a company by a third party.

BROOMFIELD, Colo.—Scott McNealy, the chairman, president, chief executive officer and most prominent co-founder still at Sun Microsystems Inc., likened freely distributed open-source code to "unwrapped software." In an interview with Baseline magazine at the Sun Microsystems John Elway Celebrity Classic golf tournament in a technology-edged suburb of Denver, McNealy said the advent of free software can be more costly than custom code written for a company by a third party. Its "even worse," he said. "First of all, you dont know where it came from. Second of all, it hasnt been certified tested. So you have got to go through all of that. Third of all, it needs to be put together. You need to get drivers here, you need to get applications, you need to get all these tiny pieces of software because everybody is doing their own thing; theres no systems integrator."
Beyond all that, a user of such software is subject to litigation by parties—most notably, the SCO Group Inc.—that believe code generated without direct corporate supervision violates their intellectual property.
"Most importantly, you dont have software indemnification, were it the case SCO wants to come after you," said McNealy. McNealy, told Baseline the widespread support of openly available programming code was a "wonderful movement," and noted, in a speech Friday at the Colorado Technology Summit in Denver, that his company was the No. Two contributor of code to the movement in the world, behind only the University of California at Berkeley. "To me, open source is a wonderful movement," he said. "We are the integrators. We are investing in it." McNealys comments came on the eve of the SunNetwork conference that opens Monday in San Francisco. McNealy will deliver a keynote address Tuesday morning at the conference, where he is expected to describe in some detail the delivery of two packages of Sun-vetted software based on open-source code and aimed at the desktop computer and the corporate server. For the desktop, Sun is likely to announce release plans for the Mad Hatter collection of productivity applications. This would include, among other things, a screen interface based on the GNOME interface developed by open-source proponents; a browser based on the Mozilla reference architecture; and, of course, Suns long-promoted StarOffice, based on standards developed by and intended as a close-to-free alternative to Microsofts suite of Office applications, including a spreadsheet, word processor and presentation program. For the server, McNealy and Sun will describe a "fully integrated suite" of Web, application and operating system software that it has developed in its Project Orion. The Orion package will include directory, identity management, messaging, calendar, portal, clustering, authentication and security software. The pitch will be that Sun is the best company to deliver reliable software and services based on open-source code. For one thing, McNealy notes, Suns versions of open-source software do not violate SCO patents, and they are more reliable than "unwrapped" software taken straight from the source code and open to all developers. "We productize it, indemnify it, integrate it, support it and make it rack-wrapped or plastic-wrapped for you," he is likely to note. Sun service providers can even take the code, he said, and make it work directly over the Web for corporate users. In that event, "Well make it gift-wrapped for you." Discuss this in the eWeek forum.
Tom was editor-in-chief of Interactive Week, from 1995 to 2000, leading a team that created the Internet industry's first newspaper and won numerous awards for the publication. He also has been an award-winning technology journalist for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He is a graduate of the Harvard Business School and the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

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