Sun exec lays out open-source goals, strategy

Simon Phipps, chief open-source officer at Sun Microsystems, has overseen several open-source initiatives in recent months. For instance, last year the company released OpenSolaris, the open-source version of its Solaris 10 Unix operating system, and in June it unveiled plans to open the source code of its Java programming language. In an interview with Computerworld, Phipps discussed Sun's open-source strategy and the view of some industry experts that Sun isn't fully committed to open-source software.

How do you respond to critics who say Sun isn't doing enough with open-source software?

In the last five years, people have positioned Sun as uncommitted to open-source. It's the competitive market and the press that does this. But if you look at the history, it's pretty hard to sustain that as a position. [Network File System] was invented by Sun and released as free software. In 1995, Sun released the Java platform with full source code that led to incredibly rapid adoption. Sun helped fund Mozilla as it went open-source and continues to contribute. Sun has been a fundamental player in accessibility code for [the GNU Object Model Environment]. I can run down a litany of these things.

What are Sun's plans for open-source?

We've actually stepped up the rate of contribution. We've released Unix as open-source software by taking the Solaris source code. Right now, we're in the mix of putting as much as possible of our software products into open-source, including Java and NetBeans tools.

Can you elaborate at all on what some observers say are Sun's vague plans for contributing Java to the open-source community?

The truth is, we're doing it as fast as we possibly can. If I could snap my fingers and make it happen tomorrow, I would. It's not a simple endeavor. You can't just slap a license on things. You have to be sure that you have the rights to every line of code. So we have to work through all sorts of issues -- legal, access, encumbrances, relationships with Java licensees. All of these issues will take time to resolve.

Can you provide any estimate on when the Java project will be completed?

I don't think it's going to be very long at all. We have staffers who have instructions that it's going to be open-source. They will get it done, and they will get it done soon. With Solaris, Sun lawyers worked on the ownership issues with that code for nearly five years. It's not going to take that long with Java.

What other Sun products will move to open-source?

The next set of things after Java is open-sourced will be middleware products, including a portal server, an identity server and a Web server. All of those things are being considered for open-source. This will happen between now and next year.

What is Sun's overall open-source strategy?

This is all a dramatic change for Sun. We are restructuring our product portfolio for the market we think is coming. We're not checking out completely from the old world. We still see customers who still want boxed products. What matters to us is to create volume, and when we create volume, we'll create revenue. We made Unix available for free with OpenSolaris 10. We find that most customers want that service and pay us for it. By giving it away, we have increased the use of Solaris in a large way and have gotten larger revenue for support. We're taking a big risk giving away the free rights to use Solaris Unix.