Suns Schwartz: Java Needs Perspectives to Grow

Q&A: Talking about open-sourcing Java and Solaris, Sun president and COO Jonathan Schwartz says the company aims to engage the community in the evolution of products in a way that defies history.

Pressure has been building on Sun Microsystems for months, if not years, to address open-sourcing Java. In an open letter to Suns Rob Gingell, IBMs Rod Smith offered to help Sun move toward that goal. Now, Sun is hosting a debate on the issue at its annual JavaOne developer conference this week in San Francisco.

In an exclusive conversation with eWEEK Contributing Editor Steve Gillmor, Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz discusses Suns nuanced position on open source and the Java community.

When you and I have talked about this in the past, Ive expressed a position somewhat similar to JBoss CEO Marc Fleurys: If its not broken, dont fix it.

I agree. I probably tend more toward that side of the debate. But on the other hand, we want to make sure that we get the issues out on the table. Theres a lot of FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] about what exactly is open source. Does it in fact cure cancer?

Theres been some evolution in terms of open-source projects in the Java space over the past couple of years, including BEAs moves in recent weeks around the Apache Beehive project and their announced intention to open-source some of the Alchemy framework. The fact that theyve aligned with Apache on Beehive seems to suggest that theyre going to get some traction.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about a new Eclipse Foundation project called Pollinate that will feature Eclipse support for BEAs Beehive technology.

What is critical for us is maintaining an active and productive dialogue with developers. And as you point out, developers run the gamut from those that believe that if its not open source, theyre not going to touch it—or maybe even farther to the left than that, if its not GPL [GNU General Public License] they wont touch it—to those who are less concerned with whether or not the source code is available and more concerned with whether the product actually runs quickly and with performance and is guaranteed to be maintained, stabilized and life-cycled by a vendor.

In the developer world, you dont get to pick your friends, because if you do, then you end up alienating a very important population that may in fact be creating content that you want to run on your platform.

In having the debate, as well as introducing what has turned out to be a bit of a lightning rod on the Solaris side, we want to say, "Were open to the discussion." Moreover, now, as opposed to historically, its not a matter of expressing an opinion, its a matter of putting plans in place and making sure we get all of the cars on the rails to go get to the destination.

What exactly is your position on the Solaris open-source model?

It gets back to the spectrum of developers. About a week ago in Chicago, I was with a collection of 30 CIOs from the largest companies in North America—folks with collectively billions of dollars of purchasing power—and I was discussing with them the motivation to open-source Solaris and trying to solicit their feedback.

And the No. 1 comment they made to me was, "We dont care if Solaris is open-sourced. In fact, from our vantage point, its a waste of time because we dont want to have our folks mucking in your source code."

I looked at them and said, "Respectfully, you have to understand that youre not necessarily the target demographic for the plans to open-source Solaris. The target demographic is a developer who is frustrated that he cant get access to the source code, or moreover, a customer thats frustrated with Red Hats support policies and pricing."

That isnt necessarily a decision a CIO is going to make, thats a decision a developer is going to make. Inside of Sun, we recognize that we talk to multiple constituencies with vastly different preferences, purchasing cycles and purchasing power, and weve got to make sure that were addressing all of them.

Next page: Engaging a community through open source.