Sun Adopts RSS

By Steve Gillmor  |  Posted 2004-03-08

Sun Adopts RSS

In an exclusive conversation with Sun Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz and eWEEK Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor, the software chief revealed Suns plans to adopt RSS (Really Simple Syndication or RDF Site Summary) as a fundamental transport for developer communications and community building.

Schwartz: Theres a broad scale realization within Sun Microsystems that communities are increasingly informed through RSS. My CTO John Fowler commanded a portion of my staff meeting away from my agenda to have a parade of those who manage RSS communities in Sun come in and talk to me and my staff about the extent to which this is an extremely powerful mechanism of getting information and creating communities.

Sun Microsystems has always been about communities. Those communities early on in the companys existence were probably nowhere near as well connected as they are today, certainly in nowhere near the same real-time mechanism as they are today. And RSS is increasingly becoming the principal means of real-time communication.

If you look now all across Sun and our developer properties, youre seeing RSS feeds –little blogs and wikis– popping up everywhere. That to me is more representative of what needs to be our mainstream strategy rather than the work of a few creative individuals who want to have our big admin portal picked up by people who care about Solaris system administration.

So were having a recent discussion at Scotts staff meeting about where we put our advertising and marketing dollars. We could run big SuperBowl [spots] or maybe advertise during the Academy Awards. And my point was, those wont reach our target demographic. RSS will reach our target demographic.

Gillmor: How do you invest in RSS?

Schwartz: We invest in a couple of ways: One, we build the basic infrastructure into all the services that Sun provides just to insure theyre available as RSS feeds. Thats pretty standard infrastructure —theres nothing there thats going to be world-changing. The second inevitable conclusion is youve got to support it in the client, and through the client. Whether thats Ampheta or ChatZilla or any of the diversity of client technologies that are available, were obviously still thinking through that.

Theres preferences from guys who run Macs and JDS (Java Desktop System) and Windows —everybodys got their favorite. Weve got to figure out what the right cross-platform answer really is. There may in fact be no right cross platform answer. It may be that RSS is sufficiently standardized (apropos of the prior conversation) that we can have a diversity of clients available to read it, including RSS clients on my handset, on my set top box, and in my hotel room.

Next page: RSS in the Java Desktop System?

RSS in the Java

Desktop System?">

Gillmor: How does that filter down to the Java Desktop System?

Schwartz: JDS is not necessarily about providing every choice. What you would pay Sun for isnt to assemble a bunch of open source code and give it to you on a disk. What you come to Sun for is: Give me an assembled, qualified, integrated stack that I can rely upon your roadmap to deploy.

When we make conclusions about what is the RSS infrastructure within that desktop, thats probably going to be more significant than almost anything else, even though the volume there isnt anywhere near what it is on a cell phone. We dont control all the definition of the software stack on a cell phone like we do on JDS. We obviously have to play close attention to how it is we put the infrastructure in place —and it also means that were gonna put the infrastructure in place.

Gillmor: You mentioned earlier that Microsoft is holding RSS back for some reason. What is that reason?

Schwartz: Its a couple of things. One, the RSS market is relatively nascent. And there are some technology leaders who are going to go deliver their RSS feeds more proactively than others. Is Microsoft missing a huge market right now? Probably not. But it just goes to the prior point that he who controls distribution controls the definition of the standard.

On one hand, I think theyre uncomfortable with how much of the RSS standards have been done in the open source community that they cant therefore lock away. And if they take a path, they have to take one that breaks that alliance, and in breaking that alliance –as theyve tried to do with HTTP, Java, and every technology they couldnt control– lies some risk for Microsoft. Im not sure right now theyre all that interested or focused on it. I think Steve Ballmer is probably more focused on his pricing in Malaysia than he is on the infrastructure for RSS.

Gillmor: But this is an opportunity with JDS for you to make that effectively the center of the desktop, as opposed to a messaging client.

Schwartz: That certainly is the case. The question for our desktop team is the same question that Microsoft has to ask of their Longhorn team: Is that kind of innovation going to get you incremental share? Right now the overwhelming, the preponderance, of feedback we have from customers about what they want from a desktop from Sun is security, familiarity, and affordability —and almost typically in that order.

The next wave of innovations –in media playing and three-dimensional desktops and RSS readers– hasnt ranked up there, but thats in part been because weve been speaking almost exclusively to an enterprise audience. As soon as you start talking to developers, as we start building our developer desktop out this fiscal year, were going to end up with a different set of what we call CTQs —issues that are critical to quality for our customers.

Next page: RSS and the Developer Community

RSS and the Developer


Gillmor: And this will be one of them?

Schwartz: I definitely think it will. Rich Green (Vice President of Sun Developer Tools and Java Software) really gets developers, and his point is: You have to understand. Developers dont buy things, they join things. Thats the epitome of our developer strategy. Give them a community to join.

Gillmor: Given that, when will we see some code coming from you that essentially makes it more difficult for Microsoft to ignore RSS?

Schwartz: We have to have that strategy ironed out by the time we announce the developer desktop, which Im hoping will be within the next few months, certainly not the next few years; this is a this-year activity. And there is already so much innovation occurring in the RSS community —the number of articles written on RSS today is staggering. Everybodys talking about it. Theres Java readers, Mozilla add-ons, Ampheta… The issue of when we will make a decision about what we will include in the desktop will be in the same time frame as when we announce our developer desktop.

Gillmor: So its a resource issue. Microsoft also has a problem with dedicating resources because it effectively destabilizes Office--Outlook…

Schwartz: The impediment to moving someone off of Outlook is that everything in Outlook is exactly as they understand…

Gillmor: Why move them off of it. If its RSS youre moving it into a technology.

Schwartz: Step One for us is making sure that an Outlook user is comfortable. Step Two is then introducing innovations that they cant get in Outlook.

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