Sun offers Java stack for $100 per employee

Sun Microsystems disclosed pricing details Tuesday for Project Orion, an initiative that aims to radically simplify the way Sun delivers server software to its customers and in the process, Sun hopes, will make its software more widely used.

The company also announced pricing for Project Mad Hatter, a stack of open source software that takes aim at Microsoft's hegemony on the desktop. Sun executives are due to talk up the offerings, along with other software developments, at its Sun Network show Tuesday morning in San Francisco.

Project Orion, which on Tuesday was renamed the Java Enterprise System, packages all of Sun's software infrastructure products together and ships them in synchronized quarterly releases with a simpler licensing model based on the number of employees a company has. Sun first discussed the idea at the start of the year, saying it's goal is to make life easier for customers who currently wrestle with numerous pricing schemes and release cycles.

The Java Enterprise System comprises dozens of products including the Sun ONE application server, directory server and portal server, Sun's clustering software, and products for messaging and calendering. The first release is due in November priced at US$100 per employee per year, including support during business hours. An extra $10 per employee buys around-the-clock support.

"The complexity of our licensing terms has been outrageous and that's what customers have complained about. The products all had separate skews, licensing terms and pricing terms and every time a customer wanted to purchase one they had to get into a lengthy negotiation procurement process," said Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, a senior director of strategic marketing at Sun.

The new licensing terms will resolve that issue, she said. The quarterly delivery system should also make Sun's software easier to use, she argued, because the products have been integrated and pretested to work with one another.

Analysts said the offering should make the process of buying Sun software easier for its customers. It could also help Sun sell additional infrastructure software to existing customers, said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Current Analysis Inc. of Sterling, Virginia.

"If the main application you use is supported by Sun and you've already got some of these Sun pieces in house, it will make it very easy for you to go with the rest of the Sun ONE stack," he said.

However, besides price, customers also look at the technical merits of software and whether their applications are supported, Willett noted. In part because of that, the new licensing terms are unlikely to have a big impact on Sun's share of the market against rivals like BEA Systems Inc. and IBM Corp., Willett said.

"I think it's unrealistic that someone is going to throw out the infrastructure software they have and go with Sun just because of the pricing and favorable licensing terms," he said. One interesting this to see will be whether IBM and BEA alter their pricing in response to Sun's move, he added.

Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk LLC, noted that Sun will charge for its software based only on the number of employees an organization has, and not on how many customers and partners might be using the software. That means a company with thousands of customers listed in its directory server, for example, might be able to buy the whole Orion stack for only slightly more than it would pay for one or two pieces of it, making it easier for Sun to "sell up" to those customers.

"Sun's reputation for software hasn't been that great. But the combination of these factors -- the licensing model, the new price point, the integration -- will force customers, particularly Sun customers, to stand up and say this is a very good deal," O'Grady said.

Sun has worked hard to get all its product development in synch to enable the quarterly releases. Still, the first Orion release will lack a few components including the high-end edition of Sun's application server and its metadirectory server. They will be part of subsequent releases, Van Den Hoogen said.

Customers will still be able to buy the products on an "a la carte" basis after the new system is introduced, she said. The Java Enterprise System will be available first for Solaris on Sparc and Solaris on x86-type processors, with the Linux to follow with the next quarterly release in February, she said.

Sun will also announce Tuesday that Project Mad Hatter has been renamed the Java Desktop System and is also priced at $100 per employee per year. As reported, it includes a version of Linux, the GNOME desktop environment, Mozilla Web browser, Sun's StarOffice productivity suite and several other open source products.

"It's to address what we believe is the need for an alternative enterprise desktop," Van Den Hoogen said.

Sun said earlier in the year that it would sell the software installed on low-priced desktops, but that hardware part of Mad Hatter has been shelved, Van Den Hoogen said. Sun is in talks with PC makers to offer systems preloaded with the software, she said, but for now customers will have to buy a PC and install it themselves.

Van Den Hoogen said the cost will still be cheap compared to buying typical Windows PC, and Sun will provide round the clock support for an additional $10, she said.

Sun is also repackaging some of its tools into a single offering called Java Studio Enterprise, priced at $18.95 per developer seat per year. It includes the Sun ONE Studio integrated developer environment along with runtime licenses for all the server products included with the Java Enterprise System, said Jeff Anders, a group marketing manager with Sun's developer group.

While Sun says the new licensing terms will put an end to haggling, it will offer some discounts. Large customers who buy all of Sun's software -- the Java Enterprise System, Java Desktop System and Java Studio Enterprise -- can have everything for $155 per employee per year, Van Den Hoogen.

Finally on Tuesday, Sun executives will announce two new software offerings in the pipeline -- the Java Mobility System, including software for a mobile workforce, and the Java Card System, for building secure systems around Sun's Java card products. Those initiatives are still at least six months out, Van Den Hoogen said.

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