Pondering Growth

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2008-04-16 Print this article Print


Will the free software giveaway promote growth fast enough to bring in the revenue?

Schwartz: Growth is the interesting question. Remember, when we acquired MySQL, they were growing at 50 percent a year. No other database company was growing 50 percent a year. The question wasn't, "Where's the growth?" The question was, "Where's the $10 billion in revenue?" Well, I can't tell you where the $10 billion is right now, but, growing 50 percent a year, I can tell you when it shows up.

On a straight-line basis, what you need to do is grow the number of new customers. If you look at the number of proprietary vendors out there, they're having a much, much harder time getting at new customers. I don't know a single startup, high-performance computing facility-I don't know a single social-networking infrastructure company that's going to rely upon proprietary software. Why would you if you have the tools of the trade available to you free of charge, and they're probably the best in the world?

Sun is back to profitability after several tough years following the dot-bomb period of 2001-2004. In your estimation, how long will it be before Sun is really back into being a true IT powerhouse-especially in the United States? Five years? Seven years?

Schwartz: The U.S. is a minority of the market. If the No. 1 application of the Internet is media consumption, the majority of the people who consume media are aged 18 to 24, and not very many of them live in the U.S., compared with the rest of the world. The U.S. may, in fact, find itself being a shrinking portion of the overall global economy from a technology consumption perspective, in part because we have relatively few people.

What is necessary to run a network of 500 million subscribers in China? We don't even have 500 million people [in the United States], much less cell phone subscribers. So the infrastructure demands are going to grow more rapidly outside the U.S. than inside the U.S.

Technically, we see much more vibrant communities-especially in the open-source world-outside the U.S. than inside the U.S. because there is still a great deal of dependence upon proprietary software in the U.S.

So when are we going to be happy with our overall performance? I'm never going to be perfectly happy. I mean, I'm not paid to be happy; I'm paid to grow the company and always be dissatisfied with our performance and to be constantly investing in our potential and realizing that potential.

I think there's been a myriad set of turnarounds [for Sun] that do not map to the last two years; they map to five or six years of R&D investment and multiple years of community investment, and we've had a fairly robust engagement from the open-source community for a while. The place where we didn't have that was around our core operating system. And that we have very, very firmly established and have driven forward.

But I don't think we're ever done. Because you just don't dump code over the wall and say, "Look, it's free!" What you do is you prove to the community that you're committed to its evolution and its investment, and that's what we're doing today with our people.

I feel better about our position today than I have in a very long time, but you have to remember that our revenue is a lagging indicator of developer adoption.

You ask me when I'll be satisfied? I'm going to be satisfied when 100 percent of the world's developers are working in and among the free and open-source software community. And I think we have a ways to go.


Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on Salesforce.com and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and DevX.com and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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