Sun's Former Software Chief Helps Nokia Get Its Swagger Back

Rich Green, former executive vice president of software at Sun Microsystems, is now the CTO at Nokia and is helping the cell phone giant get its swagger back. Green's is a classic tale of moving from the enterprise to the mobile space.

LONDON -- In a move signaling the momentum in the industry at large, Rich Green, formerly an executive at Sun Microsystems focusing on the enterprise, has a new gig as CTO at Nokia, the king of the handset makers in the mobile world.

Green has left the enterprise world behind and he says he is better for it. Formerly the executive vice president of software at Sun, among other titles he held at the company, Green is now the CTO of Nokia, helping to set the technical strategy for the cell phone giant. In an interview at Nokia World 2010 here, Green told eWEEK the decision for him to join Nokia was an easy one.

"The company had for some time been seeking a head technologist - someone to pull together and end-to-end technology stack, make market-related technology calls and set overall strategy for our products from a technical perspective.'

And although Green's history at Sun and elsewhere, such as a stint (between two separate Sun postings) at Cassatt, a company founded by BEA Software co-founder Bill Coleman, he has had some experience with the mobile space.

"Having helped invent J2ME [Java Platform 2, Micro Edition, which runs on phones and devices], the mobile world is not foreign to me," Green said. "I'm extremely passionate about mobile; it's much more exciting than the enterprise space."

Green knows part of his job is to help bring Nokia back to leading-edge relevance in the mobile market after the company went pretty much dormant technologically and left innovation to Apple with iOS and Google with Android, both of which are viewed as hot commodities while Nokia is basically viewed simply as a commodity. The company continues to outsell its competitors in sheer volume, but the Symbian operating system that powers Nokia smartphones is a step or two behind Apple's and Google's best. For instance, touch capability came late to Symbian, while it was already on iPhone and Android.

Many expect the Symbian 4 OS to be the true boost to the Nokia smartphone strategy, However, Green said he does not believe the company has to wait for Symbian 4, which is not expected to surface in devices until 2011. "We don't need to wait for Symbian 4, we have to advance Symbian 3 at an aggressive rate," Green said. "And we also have to deliver MeeGo. We're tracking very well in that regard," he added. However, Nokia made no MeeGo announcements at Nokia World 2010. MeeGo is a Linux-based open-source mobile operating system project that merges the efforts of Intel on Moblin and of Nokia on Maemo into one project.

"The mobile world is tracking the desktop OSes and that's where we're going as well," Green said, noting that Nokia, phones, tablets and other devices will deliver mobile versions of many of the device-appropriate features found on the desktop.

Sun was famous for its developer outreach via many Java programs and events, including the annual JavaOne conference, at which Green was typically a prominent speaker. Green said he intends to bring some of the lessons learned at Sun in interacting with and empowering developers to Nokia. Although it is not specifically his bailiwick, as Purnima Kochikar, president of Forum Nokia, is tasked with that.

Yet, Green can make a difference in the tooling the company provides. "We're ramping up in the tools area and APIs. Qt [Nokia's cross-platform UI development framework] and QML [the company's declarative language designed to describe the user interface of a program] will be the centerpoint. But there's a lot of API technology we can deliver. We will provide more power through our tools and SDK and frameworks, but we'll also offer more contractual agreements where we cover the developers using our technology and help them monetize their applications. It's more than the technology; it's also the processes - like proving to developers that their apps will run on all of our phones."

Despite underselling in the United States, Nokia sells the majority of its phones internationally. "We sell to the planet. I'm still assessing the technology we have here, but it's clear we have an embarrassment of riches... There's more than one lens to view the mobile business through. People are so whipped up looking through the North American lens, but Nokia is selling phones to all of the world's population, and that gets lost in the Apple versus Android messaging. You're going to see subsequent releases of Symbian and MeeGo to make us not only a leader in sales, but also in innovation in mobile and smartphones."

Meanwhile, one thing Nokia has to do is break out of the notion that it is delivering embedded systems. "We have to really move ahead with the notion that we're in the general-purpose operating system business, not the embedded system business. We're investing a lot of money in moving from embedded to a general purpose operating system."

And that's what Green is used to from his days at Sun, selling the server-based Solaris OS. This time Green's working with a much smaller form factor, but the game of competing in the technology business remains similar.

On a separate point, when asked about the Oracle lawsuit against Google for improper use of Java in Android, Green, who would likely know some details of what could come out in the the case, threw up his hands and said Nokia has nothing to do with that. Nokia is a Java licensee and adheres to the terms of the Java license.