Sun Microsystems, long a hard-line Unix vendor, is becoming a player in the Linux market as well, offering Linux on both the server and desktop. Paul Krill recently discussed Sun's Linux strategy with Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of the software group at Sun, and Schwartz highlighted the ways in which Sun differs from rivals IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP).
Q:What will you be announcing at LinuxWorld next week?
Schwartz: You're going to see us focus on cost reduction. The competition hires a lot of evangelists to talk about how great Linux is, and then (puts forth) a middleware strategy that locks you into a single vendor and gives you the same problem, just one layer removed from the chip set.
Q: Can you be specific about how you're going to focus on cost reduction?
Schwartz: My view on the outside is that (IBM CEO) Sam Palmisano is beginning to look at little like (former IBM CEO) John Akers. John Akers bragged about how great IBM's PC strategy was and, oh yes, you just need to go get an OS from this little company up in Redmond. That company ended up being more valuable than IBM. Right now, Sam spends a lot of time bragging about how great Linux is. I don't know if you've noticed Red Hat's market cap, but Sam is creating a dependency on another company that is as directed as his original dependency that he inherited from Akers. IBM is telling the world Linux is wonderful, and what they're doing is they're creating Red Hat (Inc.). I think that's creating a real problem for IBM, because at this point Red Hat has more power than IBM does. With Red Hat's acquisition of Sistina and with Red Hat's acquisition of ObjectWeb, they are now in competition with Veritas and IBM. Where does IBM go? Because they, like HP, were foolish enough to believe that you could leave your operating system behind and just go pick one up from someone else.
Q: What is Sun's Linux strategy on the desktop and on the server?
Schwartz: Let me start (with) the desktop. Unlike our peers in the industry who use Linux in their press releases and hire lots of evangelists and maybe run some ads and use the word Linux in it, we believe the best way to demonstrate commitment to the Linux community and to demonstrate a credible strategy to the marketplace is to build products using Linux and ship them to customers. Our Linux strategy on the desktop is called the Java Desktop System, and at this point we are the undisputed leader in the desktop space, using both Java and Linux and StarOffice and Mozilla. We see that business growing very aggressively as customers look for a more secure and more affordable solution to their desktop computing needs. We will ship that desktop not simply on Linux, we will also ship it on Solaris and give customers the choice.
I think that really sets us apart from, say Hewlett-Packard, which finds itself in the business of reselling other people's products and hiring evangelists to brag about it. (It) also sets us apart from IBM in the sense that we're not only willing to build products and ship them -- because you'll note that IBM goes to great pains to remind everyone that they don't sell Linux, they just want to buy all the billboards and use the word "Linux" -- we also indemnify those customers for the products we sell to them. What I find interesting about IBM's strategy is they are the most pernicious and irritating IP litigator in the world, and yet while they are suing startups and large organizations alike, they beg off the issue when it comes to (The) SCO (Group Inc.). If it's such a non-issue for customers, then I wish IBM would figure out which side of the knife they're on and provide customers with a level of protection, as Sun is doing.
Q: Where do you stand with Linux on the server side?
Schwartz: On the server side (our) strategy is aligned around dramatic reductions in the cost of computing. Most of the expense (in) the server is not the operating system, it's all of the middleware that IBM would like you to believe is everywhere like a bacteria. You are expected to pay for WebSphere at US$50,000 a CPU, and DB2 for some extreme amount of money, and portal servers, and directory servers, and messaging systems, and clustering and file systems, and management, and all the rest of that, (which) really adds up to an extraordinary amount of complexity as well as expense. Our response to that has been the Java Enterprise System, for $100 per employee, with unlimited rights to use. Our response has been to dramatically reduce the cost and complexity of server infrastructure. We will do that not only on Solaris, we will ship that on Opteron, as well as on Intel, as well as on Sparc (and also) on Linux. And unlike HP, we will stand behind our commitment to Linux by shipping products, not shipping press releases.
Q: How does Sun feel about the SCO lawsuit?
Schwartz: I don't have a view one way or another on SCO. That's a matter between SCO and IBM. What I can tell you is that as an intellectual property company, customers should rest comfortably knowing that Sun has gone to great lengths to ensure that the products we deliver to them can be used safely, and that we will stand behind that safety with indemnification. Any company that is buying technology that is not indemnified is dealing with a hypocritical vendor.
Q: Who are you referring to?
Schwartz: IBM. I think their hypocrisy is stunning. You do understand that IBM is the largest IP (litigator) in the world? Don't you find that a little odd, that on the one hand they're saying that IP matters and they're going to litigate over it, and then on the other hand they won't indemnify customers for Linux?
Q: Given that an IDC study found that Windows 2000 is more cost-effective than Linux for server tasks such as file and print, networking, and security, where are the areas where Sun expects to sell Linux vs. where they expect corporate users to buy Solaris?
Schwartz: I would appreciate it if the analyst communities that are writing these reports would disclose their revenue by IT vendor, because I think that would really help us all understand the motivation for some of these reports. I think that's a (specious) analysis, and we've certainly seen dramatic cost reductions from Unix overall.
Q: How does Sun expect to compete with the Microsoft Corp. desktop monopoly?
Schwartz: We expect to deliver to customers a more secure and more affordable alternative that requires no retraining, runs on their existing infrastructure, and at one-tenth the acquisition cost, and (multiple times) the security level. Customers across the globe are looking at Sun's Java Desktop System as by far and way the single most credible desktop alternative (to the) Microsoft Windows monopoly. It is undeniable that the momentum in China, in Israel, in the United Kingdom, in Brazil, and in India has really been our focal point on the alternative to Windows. I have never seen this much success and this much enthusiasm around an alternative to Windows in my career in computing
Q: When will Linux for the desktop be as easy to use as Windows in corporate settings, and the same with StarOffice as opposed to Microsoft Office?
Schwartz: It is today. That's why we have it deployed to thousands of employees at Sun. That's why Telstra has deployed it, that's why the Chinese Government selected it, that's why the United Kingdom National Health Service selected it. And that's why we believe that across the planet the momentum has swayed toward the delivery of an alternative to Windows that, again, the computing industry hasn't ever really seen (before). We've had over 40 million downloads of Star and OpenOffice. You'll see us announcing a big deal with a large retailer in another couple weeks.
Q: Apple Computer Inc. has been playing in the desktop pretty much since its beginning, yet it's only managed to garner 3.5 percent of the market. What can Sun do differently with Linux to be more successful?
Schwartz: I think if you look at the success that we have had on mobile handsets, Java runs on probably a third of all handsets out there. It's been extremely successful in driving its delivery into the market. We only shipped our desktop in December, so the reason why there's been only a couple of percentage points of penetration is because no credible vendor has been delivering a desktop. (You) look to an IBM or a Sun or a Microsoft or a Dell to buy your desktop. You're not going to look to Five Guys and a Dog in Bulgaria.