An Offer Sun Can Refuse

By Steve Gillmor  |  Posted 2004-03-04

An Offer Sun Can Refuse

My colleague Steven Vaughan-Nichols makes a good case for Sun Microsystems, Inc. open-sourcing Java. He votes with "an unequivocal yes" while at the same time acknowledging that chances are slim Sun will go along with IBMs kind offer to encourage Sun to do the right thing.

But before we all join hands and go happily bounding down the Blue Brick Road, lets take a closer look at whos offering what, and why. Although IBMs Rod Smith was the author of the original open letter to Suns Rob Gingell, IBMs director of WebSphere Infrastructure Software Bob Sutor was deployed to press the initiative.

"We need an absolutely official open-source implementation of Java," Sutor told eWEEKs Darryl Taft. This is the same Bob Sutor, who, as IBMs point man in the Web Services –Interoperability initiative, found a million ways to "Just Say No to Sun involvement" in the IBM/Microsoft-dominated standards body.

Of course, the WS-I only jelled when Sun was finally allowed to be elected to the board; Sun software chief Jonathan Schwartz is proud to point out that Sun was the first to implement the WS-I stack in its Java Enterprise System. But Schwartz is blunt about IBMs standards motives this time around in an exclusive conversation. "They actually need for Sun to be removed from the process so that only they can then wrest control of the technology upon which the industry is dependent."

The process hes referring to is the Java Community Process (JCP), which IBM has long sought to remove from Suns control. "We are interested in insuring compatibility and driving the standards--because standards drive competition," Schwartz says. "Were not interested in allowing any one vendor to split the market and drive it for their exclusive benefit."

Next page: Open Source or Open Standards?

Open Source or Open


Why does IBM see Sun as such a threat? You have to go no further than the aggressive licensing strategy that Schwartz is now expanding to per-citizen licensing. Suns Java Desktop System pricing has already reaped some benefits in bringing Microsoft to the bargaining table, and now WebSphere is feeling the pinch. If you add JBoss 27 percent to Suns 14 percent app server share, you already have formidable downward market pressure on IBMs offering.

"When youre leading the market you hate standards, and when youre lagging the market you love standards," Schwartz observes. "I see IBM as leading the market and frustrated that they cant deliver a new feature in Websphere without customers coming back to them and saying, but thats not in J2EE. And I think thats very frustrating for them, because they want to be able to split off and do things that only come from IBM."

If JES drops to $.33 cents a seat in the third world, what does that do for WebSphere and IBMs core revenue model—Global Services? At the very least, it puts pressure on them to drop WebSpheres (and DB2s) price, or even open source them.

Then the other shoe drops, with citizen or hardware-partnered pricing on JDS. Now youve got whole countries standardized on the Java stack, with N1 moving into the pipeline to take over deployment and management services. Suddenly, its Hey IBM, I got your on-demand right here.

Its clear why IBM wants Java control, but how about its erstwhile partner in market force power politics, Microsoft? Turning Java open source would tend to reduce the investment in Java Windows implementations, further cementing its desktop hegemony. Regardless of the outcome, Redmond wins when its competitors fight among themselves.

Leave it to Sutor to say more, with less, than he intends: "Were trying to walk before we run on this," he reassured Darryl Taft. "Were not looking for the world on Day One." What about Day Two, Bob?

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