All things under Sun

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s chief strategy officer, on July 1 will assume the role of executive vice president of software and will inherit a set of major challenges. In particular, Schwartz needs to put Sun's Linux house in order, get IT managers excited about a range of products marketed under the Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) banner, and recapture the industry momentum the company has lost in the wake of being late to embrace and understand Web services. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard and Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, Schwartz defends all things under Sun.

To many people in the industry, it seems like Sun has this knee-jerk aversion to XML and anything to do with Microsoft. Under your leadership, what will Sun's position on XML be?Schwartz: I wouldn't argue with anybody that XML is a better portable data platform than almost anything else. But is XML going to be the dominant format for the propagation of information? I don't believe so. I believe it will be the most prevalent for static data, and specifically for textual data. But I think it is a complete fallacy to assume that AOL-Time Warner is going to start broadcasting Harry Potter in XML. They're not. I believe that media types will be the dominant content format on the Web; therefore, MPEG 2 and 4 and all of its progeny, to my mind, are going to be the dominant content type.

So looking at the role of Java in our end-to-end platform, Java is an execution environment. In fact, we believe it will be the most pervasive with respect to appearing on a multitude of devices, from set-top boxes, to airline seat-backs, to vending machines, to cellular phones, to Web servers, to app servers, to databases. Unquestionably, it is our end-to-end architecture.

But what is going to be the principal transport between and among those devices? That all depends. The cellular network isn't going to use HTTP, and the broadcast cable environment right now doesn't even know what an IP network is. So will HTTP be the principal propagation mechanism for corporate data? Probably. But what do you do with the need for richer expressions or semantic information on top of HTTP? You evolve to things like SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and ebXML [e-business XML].

Our strategy can be summed up as follows: We believe that every platform that exists will need to have an execution environment of some form. To the extent [that] a portable execution environment needs to exist, we believe Java will be it, because .Net is a waste of time for any consumer company. [Microsoft is] never going to put .Net in front of their users. But what is the principal propagation mechanism to get code to those devices? It may be XML, in the sense that you can send some pretty interesting instructions and information to a device in XML. It may, in fact, be objects -- depending upon the data types that you're attempting to propagate -- because again, if you're going to ship a movie to the seat-back of the GM minivan, you aren't going to do it in XML. But you may ship the billing information around the Harry Pottermovie in XML, and that seems like the rational thing to go do. But with respect to our strategy, portable execution is Java, portable data is XML. XML is useful to get the data there, but XML had nothing to do with how the information was displayed.

Microsoft would argue that objects will be displayed using C# rather than Java.Schwartz: That is laughable to me because you would end up having to put C# on the diversity of devices on which Java is currently available. There's no way, at least from what I've seen, that a carrier is going to stick C# on a cellular handset.

If the Microsoft threat is laughable, why is Sun suing them?Schwartz: On the desktop, they acted criminally and anti-competitively, and we want to see that situation [rectified]. Right now one of the problems we have is that 99 percent of all Internet access is done through a Windows PC, [where] Microsoft has a monopoly on the portal through which the Internet is experienced. [Every] business is as affected as mine because [Microsoft] can determine, completely ad hoc, that they don't like you anymore and therefore you're not accessible through their browser. I don't know if you noticed, but when you launch XP, it goes directly to MSNBC, which means the majority of people that you would view as your impartial readers, having leveraged an open desktop historically, are now going to be biased toward Microsoft property.

In order for Microsoft to perpetuate its current market value, it has to continue growing. The only way that it can continue growing is by getting into other businesses, including financial services, media services, and telecommunication services. That is why those industries are beginning to have an allergic reaction. It's either that or [Microsoft grows] by jacking up the monopoly rent on their products, which, through their Software Assurance Program, they're doing a great job of alienating CIOs with. There's an element of .Net that is beginning to creep into the Internet. It is not simply an application architecture. It is a mechanism for Microsoft to begin participating in third-party value chains. That was what HailStorm was originally all about, but given that it was rejected almost wholesale, they backed off and said "Let's just go get all the users into Passport and then we'll come back and make another run at it."

In your view, is XML limited to be being a data transport?Schwartz: There has to be an executable language. XML is not a complete executable language. There needs to be a control language, and XML is a lousy control language, if it is in fact a control language. You can write a conditional loop in XML, but you cannot write a memory management system in XML. Do I believe that XML is going to provide an execution platform? That's laughable. That makes no sense to me. ... You could certainly have the data model -- and it could even be the execution model -- in XML, but you can't have the control language in XML. It doesn't make any sense.

So how is Java differentiated from what Microsoft is trying to do with .Net?Schwartz: I'm suggesting that what .Net and Java are trying to do are basically the same. We will both get to a model of loosely coupled, coarsely grained systems in asynchronous environments, which are faulty. Do I believe that people are going to be pushing purchase orders around in Java? No. That doesn't make any sense. Do I believe that they're going to be pushing Harry Potter around in Java? No. They're going to do it in MPEG. Are they going to do it in XML? Absolutely not. I believe that XML will have a transformational effect on application architectures. I think it's fantastic. I think it maps very well into a strategy that we were potentially late to the game to evangelize to the same extent that perhaps Microsoft has. But Microsoft is evangelizing XML not because they want to build an open standards platform. It's because they want to figure out a way to help propagate their application architectures and their windowing environment.

Of late, IBM has been pushing Linux hard as an alternative to Solaris and cozying up more to Microsoft. Why do you think this is happening?Schwartz: They're trying desperately to position themselves as somehow having a revolutionary new architecture. Why are they promoting Linux to the extent that they are? They lack an operating system franchise. Funny thing, though: They don't support MySQL or Post Script databases. Why? Because they have a database and they don't want to gut it with open source.

So at the end of the day, what is the Sun ONE strategy all about?Schwartz: When you look at the Sun ONE architecture, it's about assuming that there will be some non XML-based services as well as XML-based services. Are we ever going to just eliminate LDAP and replace it with something that is more XML-like? I haven't found a CIO who's running out to go deploy their corporate directory on something other than LDAP. I think we've got work to do to try to make sure that our architectural preferences and our strategies are clear. For us, it's about servers, services, and storage, and those are three of the businesses that we're in.

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