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Our Linux strategy – Sun Exec

By   |  October 19, 2003

The issue that keeps me, and our customers up at night isn\’t whether we have a Linux strategy-it is whether we have a Java and Web services strategy. Customers ask me all the time \”where should I be building applications and developing skills?\” C or Posix don\’t make any sense as a target, at least for enterprise applications. Java and Web services do make sense-for obvious reasons. Firstly, they\’re portable, based an open standards (rather than standards determined by volume distribution – which is the problem the Linux community is increasingly facing as dominant distributions move in directions the community doesn\’t want. Secondly, because they\’re open standards, you can move applications from one supplier\’s implementations to any other. Open standards enable substitutability – and competition. Markets determined by volume alone are subject to tipping – witness Windows, and what happened with the browser world. Because Microsoft was the dominant supplier, it controlled the market, and now it\’s telling the world which Web sites will render in IE, hiding behind the Eolas suit. No amount of standards can influence the Windows world – the Java world works differently. Participants agree to a standard, then we ship it.

Tipping is already occurring in the Linux world, and I am worried about it. For example, personally, I\’m a big fan of Debian – I think it tries to keep the industry honest. But I don\’t see any enterprise ISV\’s qualifying to it or supporting it, which removes it as an alternative for those who\’ve grown tired of price increases from dominant distributors. I\’ve watched a couple of enterprise customers try to move to Debian, and fail for lack of ISV support. So now those customers are stuck. But again, this is the server-the client\’s a different matter (see below).

We have our own operating system, it\’s called Solaris
I know this statement bothers some in the community. Back in 1993, the world told us to abandon Solaris for Windows, that Microsoft would take over the world. We disappointed Wall Street and some customers by staying our course with Unix, with Solaris. Thankfully, we didn\’t blink. You can\’t even name the companies that did – they no longer exist. So we\’re doubling down on Solaris, and focusing on adding value and innovation. We\’re one of the three remaining operating systems in the world that runs on 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

But that\’s not an exclusive contribution. Remember, Sun founded itself on open source using BSD. We totally believe that open-source development can foster a wellspring of innovation and community – we\’ve built our company on the premise (remember NFS). This does not mean that everything can or should be open source. Sun continues to pursue a hybrid model in which we use and contribute to open source when that solves customer problems-we are a massive contributor to the open-source community, and we\’ll continue to innovate with our own IP. They\’re not in conflict.

Having our own operating system gives us the ability to solve customer problems using the best technology available and be agile to as well as drive industry changes. We can guarantee road maps, ship dates, and predictability and ISV support. Enterprise customers who come to Sun get the best-supported products and can take advantage of open source, and packaged products without concern.

And for those that want either Red Hat or SuSE, we\’re happy to supply it – but our role is as a supplier/reseller. We\’ll deliver our products atop them where customers seek it, and absolutely add value to help promote Linux and Solaris as alternatives to the Windows world – but our operating system investments will target Solaris, on Intel\’s 32-bit x86 instruction set, on AMD\’s 64-bit Athlon/Opteron, and on Sun\’s 64-bit Sparc.

Unlike IBM, we will not move away from having our own operating system. We believe that in so doing, in effectively end of life\’ing AIX by not shipping it on x86, IBM has left itself exposed to the dominant distribution, whose objectives aren\’t necessarily aligned with IBM\’s. On Intel, then, it\’s down to Microsoft, Solaris and Linux.

Where will Sun support Linux?
Computing is a very broad market, from sensors to supercomputers. We have no interest in abandoning our existing Solaris customers, or in ceasing to grow the volume market for Solaris on servers. We\’re making massive performance improvements on 1- and 2-cpu Intel and Sparc systems, growing our ISV base, growing value and functionality with the complete Java Enterprise System – which delivers value on both Linux and Solaris. Our strategy is to make Unix successful, whether it\’s Solaris from Sun, or Linux from the community.

That Dell and IBM won\’t vouch for Linux strikes me as hypocritical – especially for IBM, the industry\’s most pernicious patent litigator

But on the desktop – and moreover, on devices – it\’s a different world. I don\’t expect to see anyone running Solaris on a mobile phone. I do expect those devices, and many desktops, to run Linux – and with Linux, comes Java, and higher level programming abstractions. So we\’re very interested in protecting customers and OEM\’s from the legal issues surrounding Linux to help promote the evolution and deployment of new client devices, especially those running Java. Our newest desktop is built atop Linux and Solaris, and at $100/desktop, or $50/employee, delivers real value against the alternatives – we obviously don\’t get there with Java alone.

Linux plays a strong role for us in devices – we don\’t necessarily have a Linux strategy, per se, because that\’s at too low a level, but we do want to see Linux succeed. Java and Linux are entirely symbiotic. With their success comes market opportunity for everyone. The combination of the two preserves open networks, and provides customers with choice and competition. That\’s goodness-so let me be unmistakably clear: we think Linux redefines the landscape for competitive alternatives where none previously existed. On the desktop, there has been no x86 alternative for more than a decade. And we are driving that as aggressively as possible. Alongside Solaris for higher power markets, and not in replacement of it.

We indemnify!
Folks are confusing indemnity with warranty. Warranty is all about a vendor\’s ability to attest to a product\’s suitability or fitness for purpose. Indemnity is very different – it\’s the guarantee a vendor provides its customers that in the event a third party sues the customer for using its intellectual property, the indemnifier will cover the risk. Sun provides indemnity for all its products, and we believe that confidence and security matter to enterprises building their business on our products. That IBM and Dell refuse to offer indemnity suggests they\’re using the community to harvest revenue, while leaving risk with those who contribute to open source (who may not get paid), or those who use it (and don\’t get any protection). It\’s a real issue – and Sun will protect its customers, and vouch for its products. That Dell and IBM won\’t vouch for Linux strikes me as hypocritical – especially for IBM, the industry\’s most pernicious patent litigator – they derive huge revenues from suing companies based on the claim they\’re using IBM\’s technology. IBM doesn\’t talk a lot about that. And now they\’re saying they won\’t offer any level of formal protection for Linux customers, that they don\’t need it. On the one hand they\’re suing companies based on claims of stolen IP, and on the other, they\’re delivering products and refusing to give customers the security that IBM stands behind the intellectual property. Maybe it\’s me, but I don\’t understand. From what we hear within IBM, their patent folks don\’t understand, either.

We are committed to driving solutions for customers-solutions that meet price/performance objectives, security, and feature/functionality. Based on open standards, based on a history of innovation, and an unparalleled-and unquestionably honest and forthright – participation with the developer community.

I hope that helps clarify my statements. As always, I\’m open to input from the community. We would be nowhere without them, and we count on their support (and critique) to shape our thinking and strategies. Even when we, with respect and deference, disagree with them.

Jonathan Schwartz is the the executive vice president of software at Sun Microsystems. He can be contacted at


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