SAN FRANCISCO—Sun Microsystems Inc.s chief software engineer took the LinuxWorld stage here today to show off “Mad Hatter,” the companys upcoming unified desktop, which he said the company will sell for half the price of a Windows environment.
Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice-president of Suns software group, also said that a broad software-license deal struck with AT&T in the late 1990s allowed the company to inject whatever code it wanted into the Linux kernel. Schwartz pledged to indemnify its customers against any lawsuits by the SCO Group or another supplier.
Mad Hatter, which Sun first disclosed a year ago, is Suns effort to dislodge Microsoft Corp. and its Windows/Office combination from the desktop PC. Like StarOffice, which is built upon the work of the OpenOffice.org developers, Mad Hatter will include a third-party Linux GUI such as GNOME, the Mozilla browser, Suns StarOffice suite, the Evolution e-mail server, the GAIM messaging client and Java – and it will be priced to undercut Microsoft.
“We think it will be 80 to 90 percent less expensive than (Microsoft),” Schwartz said in a question-and-answer session following his keynote. When audience members pointed out that Microsoft uses volume pricing to win enterprise customers, Schwartz amended his statement to say that Sun will price its products at half the price of Microsofts volume discounts.
“Whatever Microsofts last quote is, well be half that,” Schwartz said. Developers can email firstname.lastname@example.org for an evaluation copy, he said.
In a demonstration of Mad Hatter, Schwartz also showed off what he said was a “thought piece” on a future 3D GUI. The demo, dubbed “Looking Glass,” used transparent, three-dimensional windows that could rotate in space and hide behind one another, drastically increasing the desktop space. The GUI demonstration also featured a Mac OS X-like “dock” containing thumbnail copies of recently viewed documents.
“The only way for Microsoft to respond isnt a new color schema or a patch—its by lowering the prices,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz said that Sun had no plans to commercialize the Looking Glass demo technology but intended the demonstration as an indicator of the potential of the platform. Microsofts Longhorn technology, due in late 2005, also treats windows as transparent 3D objects. Schwartzs demonstration ran off an older Sony laptop with a “mid-range” ATI graphics processor, he said.
As for the Apple connection, Schwartz said that the practically every Sun employee owns an Apple desktop at home. “We would love to partner with Apple, he said. “Theyre everyones favorite company, and iTunes is really cool.”
Schwartz also addressed the Linux legal atmosphere, currently roiled by SCOs aggressive claims that it owned fundamental copyrights to Unix code allegedly found within the periphery of the Linux code.
In the early 1990s, Schwartz said, Sun chief executive Scott McNealy agreed to spend several million dollars to take a broad license with AT&T, essentially granting Sun legal rights equivalent to ownership of Unix code.
“As a result of that decision in 1993, we can do whatever we want (to the code),” Schwartz said. “We can drive forward and indemnify our customers too,” a basic responsibility of any intellectual property provider, he said.
Sun is organizing itself around one core platform in several different areas: Mad Hatter on the desktop, J2EE in the enterprise server environment, the JavaCard in the mobile space, and the underlying Java technology. Project Orion, which organizes clustering and resource management into a single release which will be released every quarter, will be designed first for Intel and for the Sparc processor. In the future, Project Orion will also be released for AMDs Opteron processor, Schwartz said, and from then on Sun will release new versions for all three processor families on the same quarterly schedule.
If, several years down the road, Mad Hatter succeeds in outselling the Windows/Office combination on desktop PCs, Sun will strongly look at open-sourcing Java, Schwartz said. OpenOffice and StarOffice collectively have been downloaded more than 40 million times in the past four years, he said.
That said, Schwartz had sharp words for those who said that the company should dump its Solaris operating system and adopt Linux wholesale. Linux and Intel microprocessors go hand-in-hand, Schwartz said. But Linux is a complement to Solaris, not a replacement, he said.
“I have the same problems with cynics who said, Just throw away Solaris and go to Linux, ” Schwartz said. “Its not going to happen.”
Schwartz closed out his keynote, subtitled “Dont Believe Everything You Hear,” with the admonition: “Dont listen to the cynics, dont listen to the pundits, and dont listen to the analysts,” none of whom predicted the rise of Linux, he said.