Q&A: Suns Software CTO Talks Shop

There have been some changes lately in Sun Microsystem's software strategy. Here are some of the details.

Theres a lot of news about Sun Microsystems, these days. A court has ordered Microsoft to include Suns version of Java in Windows XP (although that ruling has been stayed pending a decision on Microsofts appeal). Sun recently announced that 1 million developers have downloaded its 2-year-old peer-to-peer networking software—dubbed JXTA (for the word juxtapose)—and that many applications are using the software. And the companys software strategy has been shifting, lately. Sun just unveiled its Project Orion strategy, which brings the companys software offerings together into one scheduled quarterly release of an integrated system with a uniform licensing policy. We discussed Suns initiatives with CTO John Fowler, one of the key drivers behind technologies such as Java and Solaris.

What exactly is JXTA? What do I get if I download it?
JXTA was originally conceived to be a protocol to allow peer-to-peer (P2P) applications development—the ability for applications to talk to each other and exchange information. It went from being a network protocol exercise to including programming libraries for JXTA applications which are in Java, C, and even in PERL.

So you get a runtime environment you can install on your system, which allows you to implement the peer-to-peer capabilities, and use the programming libraries. There are also sample applications. Its aimed at developers.

And this is all open-source and cross-platform?
Yes, unlike many other P2P technologies, this is completely open-source and royalty free. Its implemented not only in Java but for multiple environments so it really can be deployed anywhere. The last part of it is that the prior P2P technology libraries have focused on programming tools, but were focusing on the underlying network protocol. Thats whats durable over a long period of time. Were going to standardize the protocol.

If you look at TCP/IP, for example—the base protocol of the Internet—the key with that was getting it standardized and then having the code available for people to implement it on various operating systems. For P2P, were going down the same path.

What was the impetus for Suns Orion initiative?
In the world of middleware—such as portal servers, app servers, directory servers—the current product cycle works such that you get a lot of separate products released and licensed at various times with various features. Weve learned that what looks to product teams like a reasonable proposition is really unreasonable at enterprise sites. There are simply too many disparate pieces of technology licensed too many different ways.

In practice, you want to use them all together to build your enterprise infrastructure. You want to build business logic using app servers, you want to express the output of those apps to a portal server, you want to use identity management. Its too complicated for all of this to depend on separate products. For many server products for example, you can run into per-CPU pricing, per-entry pricing, per-node pricing. Orion will ensure uniform pricing models, and we will announce those shortly.

With our Solaris OS, weve gotten into a rhythm of delivering new functionality on a quarterly basis. To the customer, this becomes predictable behavior. So the essence of Orion is to take our separate products—sold with separate licensing—and bring them together.

Whats an example of a business that would benefit from Orion?
Lets take Sun. We would deploy for our portals and app servers a certain set of applications for payroll processing. Lets say we then wanted to expand out to supply-chain management. In the traditional model, we would have to go through a whole round of software licensing deals with vendors to procure the software. If we then want to add human resources systems, we have to do it again. Orion seeks to solve this kind of problem.

Is the idea of a uniform licensing model partly a response to Microsofts new licensing policies?
Not really in the case of Orion. Were responding to enterprise customers with Orion. They face a blizzard of different models.

On the desktop-client side, Microsofts new licensing policies do present an opening for us, though. Look at OpenOffice, which is very popular on Windows. People are looking at open systems alternatives to Microsofts licensing policies. Theyre questioning whether they need to use proprietary data formats.

Switching gears, how focused is Sun on desktop software these days? Microsofts share of the desktop is pretty commanding.
Suns a systems company. People think of that as being the servers and the software that runs on servers, but we think of it as an end-to-end development proposition. That extends all the way out to the Java card for authentication.

We want to create an industry thats not just about the desktop itself. We see cell phones, PDAs, and all these myriad devices that arent just about the Windows desktop.

As far as Windows itself, we want to make sure Microsoft ships a compatible Java with Windows. There isnt a single developer community if people can take it in different directions.

Weve also been working on OpenOffice, which is a large-scale open-source development project. And weve announced with Madhatter our intent to produce a Linux distribution which includes open-source technologies.

Your version of Java going into Windows wont make that much of a difference on desktops will it, though? Wont it be more of a server issue?
I disagree. Microsoft has a dominant monopoly share and was able to remove Java from Windows, so people who decide our Java going into Windows wont make a difference are getting into "the observer interacting with the observed."

This will make a huge difference. My mother, in rural upstate New York, recently upgraded to Windows XP, after which she called me and said her online banking doesnt work anymore and shes supposed to go get this thing called Java. Our Java going into Windows affects the development environment and lots of users.