McNealy reveals Sun open source strategy
- By John K. Waters
Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy last week expanded on his company's
recently announced plans to sell Linux-based PCs during a keynote address at the
company's SunNetwork 2002 conference. The desktop machines will run Sun's
tweaked implementation of the Linux OS, be bundled with other open-source
software and include Sun's smart-card readers, McNealy said. He promised that
the systems will start shipping sometime next year.
Sun plans to sell the so-called ''purple box'' systems to enterprise
customers in 100-unit lots. Although pricing isn't yet set, Sun software Vice
President Jonathan Schwartz estimated a price tag of about $300,000 to buy and
administer the systems for five years. A comparable package of Windows white box
PCs would cost just over $1 million, Schwartz claimed.
Along with the Linux OS, the Sun-branded machines will come bundled with the
Mozilla Web browser, OpenOffice desktop software, Ximian's Evolution e-mail and
calendar software and the Gnome user interface, officials said.
Sun introduced its first computers running Linux -- the Cobalt LX50
servers -- in August at the LinuxWorld Expo. At that time, McNealy said Sun
would soon offer a Linux PC to compete with Microsoft.
Sun's Linux strategy is unfolding in a shrinking market for high-end servers,
still the company's bread-and-butter offering. Although Sun continues to
dominate the Unix market with more than 50% share by revenue, according to
market researcher IDC, that market is expected to continue contracting.
Meanwhile, demand for Linux servers appears to be on a very different trajectory
as IDC projects Linux server sales to more than triple from $80 million in 2001
to $280 million by 2006.
Although it hard to draw a straight line between Sun's open source activities
and a profit center, Sun execs insist that it's a good thing for the company.
''We recognize that, by creating a win-win marketplace, Sun gains more
success in the future,' said Sun's chief technology evangelist, Simon Phipps.
''It's about supporting technologies that create markets in which Sun can
''Sun has been involved in open source almost from our birth,'' Sun's open
source ''diva,'' Danese Cooper said, maintaining that ''The truth is, [in recent
years] we have done more to support open source and give it legs than just about
''Of course, some people see us and they say, here comes Golliath, and they
worry that we're going to screw them in the end,'' Cooper added. ''When the open
source community heard that we were charging for Star Office, and they thought
we were proprietizing Open Office, they were very upset with us. I can't tell
you how many times I've responded to e-mails and typed out, 'Open Office code
can never be taken away from you. The license says so. We might stop hosting it,
but it is mirrored in a 112 different places.' When they realized that we were
playing by the rules, they relax.''
Sun's Star Office productivity suite is a distribution of the Open Office,
just as Red Hat is a distribution of Linux. The Open Office open source project
now comprises millions of lines of code, and ports to 15 platforms are in
development. Cooper said that other groups are working on other Open Office
distros in Europe and one in China. The Chinese distro is called ''Red Office,''
she said. Open Office is available for free at www.openoffice.org.
Phipps also said that open sourcers shouldn't worry that Sun Linux 5.0 is a
new flavor of the operating system. ''It's Red Hat Linux plus the necessary
patches to make it work on the LX50,'' he said. ''There were two trains of
thought at Sun about what to call it. We could describe it as Red Hat with
patches or as a finished item that the customer didn't have to deal with.''
''Whichever way you look at it, we are not producing a competing distribution
of Linux intended to have an independent existence on its own,'' he added.
Sun also announced that it was making binary reference code for the Phase I
specification implementation of Liberty available on its Experimental Stuff Web
The Liberty spec was released a while ago by the Liberty Alliance, of which Sun
is a member. Cooper described the release as ''a kind of leg-up piece of code
that will be helpful with implementation.''
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached