Sun plans to make all its software free

Sun Microsystems president and COO Jonathan Schwartz on Thursday cited the company's plans to eventually offer all of its software for free as a way to build communities around its technologies.

"The net upside of that is we get more people engaged in our community," Schwartz said of Sun's plans while speaking at the AlwaysOn conference in Stanford, California.

Sun currently offers its Solaris operating system components freely via open source. Technologies such as Java also are downloadable at no charge.

"We've been trying to faithfully explore how to deliver our products and technologies for free," Schwartz said. He made no specific statement about offering Sun hardware for free, however. Sun can leverage its software technologies to boost hardware sales.

Other software products on Sun's roster include its Sun Java Enterprise System middleware, Sun Java Desktop System, the StarOffice office suite, and development tools such as Sun Java Studio Creator. The N1 datacenter management offerings and StorEdge storage software also are in Sun's arsenal.

There have been 2 million licenses downloaded for the open source version of Solaris, Schwartz said. Open source does not imply that there is no revenue to be generated but that different business models are used, he said.

Overall, Schwartz was praiseworthy of open source. "Open source is having a [highly] productive role in driving innovation, driving down cost," he said.

In a comment apparently referring to Microsoft, Schwartz said, "It's going to be tough for folks that are keeping their technologies in a closed-source environment to convince [the market] that they're serious about interoperability."

By commoditizing technology, markets are built up, according to Schwartz. "I think our view has been that commodity markets are the best markets in the world," he said. Schwartz referred to markets such as financial services and telecommunications, where services are commoditized but lots of revenue is generated nonetheless. Commodity produces perpetual demand, Schwartz said.

"The commoditization of some of the marketplace, such as railway services, didn't imply locomotives were commodities," Schwartz said.

Sun, Schwartz continued, is focused on a community of developers creating services that are purchased by individuals with budgets.

The AlwaysOn conference features comments from live chatters that are transposed on a screen at the front of the auditorium. During Schwartz's presentation, chatters offered up remarks such as noting that Schwartz made no mention of Apple and a prediction that Apple would acquire Sun. A derogatory remark about Java also was made.

During a subsequent panel session pertaining to open source, former Oracle president Ray Lane, now a partner in venture capitalist Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, cited fundamental changes in the computer industry.

"I think if your idea of the software industry or even the computer industry at large is kind of snapshotted in the mid-1990s and you're operating that way today, you are without a doubt coming to the wrong conclusions and making a lot of bad decisions," Lane said.

Only three companies, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP generate 75 percent of the profit pool in software while fewer than 5 percent of software companies actually innovate, according to Lane.

Panelist Marten Mickos, CEO of open source database vendor MySQL, said he believes more lines of code will be written on MySQL than on the Oracle database going forward. "I'm quite convinced that it will be MySQL," Mickos said.

The open source LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/Python/PHP), meanwhile, "has become a serious alternative to the .Net and J2EE stacks," Mickos said.

During an opening session on "Future Disruptive Technologies," panelists from Stanford and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) cited problems with American students not being interested in computer science and engineering. "You will find that more than half of students in these fields are foreign students," said Jim Plummer, dean of the School of Engineering at Stanford.

"Who can name an astronaut these days?" asked Alice Gast, vice president for research and an associate provost at MIT, in noting the lack of interest.

Gast cited how developments in one area of science can benefit another area. Laser research, for example, arose out of physics but is now being applied to surgery. Research in quantum mechanics may be applied to breaking out of Moore's Law, she said.

Moore's Law refers to a statement by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore that said the industry should be able to double the number of transistors on a chip every 18 months or so. Some in the industry, however, have believed the end is near for Moore's law.

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