Sun Cashes in on OpenSolaris

Q&A: Sun Microsystems' Simon Phipps says going open source for the Solaris market has opened up new opportunities for growth.


As chief open-source officer at Sun Microsystems, Simon Phipps has been a busy man of late, with Sun moving to open-source big pieces of its software portfolio—from its Solaris operating system to its enterprise Java software stack. Phipps sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft in Boston in February to talk tools, software and business strategy.

How would you describe your job? What do you do?

Im Suns chief open-source officer. I am the catalyst for helping Sun open-source its software portfolio, from soup to nuts.

So I link together all the groups, give them or direct them to the advice they need to take their products open source, and devise the business models that will keep the developers paid. I promote best practice and unified thinking. And I advise Suns executives on open-source governance, licensing, community and business issues.

What is Suns tools strategy?

Our tools strategy involves working with the Java environment. The Java environment supports both the Java language and, increasingly, some other languages, such as Python and Groovy. And Im expecting to see that language support grow. We create 100 percent pure Java tools, which means that theyre designed to run in the Java environment on any platform. And were very sharply focused on making sure everything we do is able to work everywhere.

What are your thoughts on the commoditization of the IDE [integrated development environment]?

Well, I dont think the process is completely finished yet. There are still big markets for a variety of IDEs. I do think that looking at how IDEs work, theres still scope for more help to come into the IDE market. Neither the NetBeans environment nor the Eclipse environment is completely ideal for growing rich ecosystems.

The NetBeans environment is very focused on being 100 percent pure Java. But it needs to develop its market acceptance more strongly.

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The Eclipse platform has got a very good ecosystem, but that ecosystem is based around a uniquely commercial foundation governance thats actually very hard to join, unless youre a startup. Neither of those has completely solved the commoditization of the IDE market.

So, what does Sun stand to gain from open-sourcing its software?

Well, there are a couple of different angles to come at that question from. Theres the very philosophical angle that you can take. I believe that society has gotten connected. Doing things as part of connected communities is going to become the main production mechanism—in the information society, in particular, and in other areas of society as well. Consequently, making sure that we are experts at working in that connected community is an important long-term goal for the company.

Next Page: The bottom line.