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i-Technology Viewpoint: We Must Get Beyond "Binary Extremes," Says Sun's COO

Open Source or Proprietary? That's not an either/or choice any more, says Sun's Jonathan Schwartz

He's been doing it again. Blogging, that is. And, as usual, Sun's president and COO zeroes in on the main issue that makes the software industry the endlessly fascinating place it is, anno 2004, namely the choice between proprietary and open source solutions.

It's not an either/or choice, Schwartz contends, and refers to a surprising moment that happened at Sun's JavaOne developer conference earlier this year.

"A bunch of friends joined us for a discussion on the open sourcing of Java," writes Schwartz in the latest entry in his widely-read blog: "Among the luminaries present was Brian Behlendorf, who opened his statements by asking what I'm sure he felt was a question with a popular answer, 'How many of you work on an open source project?' I expected to see a flurry of hands, and I'm sure he did, too. Neither of us saw hands go up."

Schwartz cites this as just one example of how you can't stereotype the software development community, even if you think you can. When you think it's a mixture of open-source and proprietary users, it can turn out to be proprietary only. And vice versa.

"There are those that persist in trying to draw the industry as filled with binary extremes," Schwartz observes. "I choose to see it differently - the network reaches a market so broad, there can never be one definition, one product or one market."

Schwartz mentions another example, the flip side if you like.

This time it involves an incident that took place when he was keynoting a CIO event in Cincinatti a few weeks back:

"The event was attended by a cross section of American companies, from retailers to pharmaceutical companies, logistics and airlines. Toward the end of my prepared remarks, I started previewing the open sourcing of Solaris (and our Red Hat upgrade programs, just for fun). One of the CIOs stopped me to ask, 'why are you open sourcing Solaris? The last thing I want is more source code.' My response, 'No offense intended, but you're not my target demographic. It's your developers, and they'd love the ability to see/evolve the source.'"

Schwartz has been making the headlines regularly with his blogging, most recently when, in an entry titled "I believe in IP," he made a declaration that Sun very shortly afterwards backed up with a $92M payment to Eastman Kodak Co.:

"I believe in intellectual property. In my view, it's the foundation of world economies, and certainly the foundation upon which Sun Microsystems was built. Copyright, trademark, patent - I believe in them all. I also believe in innovation and competition - and that these beliefs are not mutually exclusive."

"If you look at Sun's business," Schwartz continued in that September 30 blog, "all we really are, like most of our peers in the technology industry (and the media and entertainment industries with which we're converging), is an intellectual property fountain. Pour money in the top, some of the world's most talented people go to work, intellectual property falls out the other end. We happen to turn our IP into storage and servers and software and services - but realistically, that's what our manufacturing and service partners do for us. All Sun ultimately does is create ideas, design systems and engage communities."

What goes for Sun, obviously, goes for Eastman Kodak, which purchased the patents disputed in its case against Sun from Wang Laboratories in 1997 when it bought Wang's imaging software business for $260 million and was looking for restitution in the damages part of the trial to the tune of $1.06 billion in past royalties, which Kodak's lawyers calculated represented half of Sun's operating profit from the sales of computer servers and storage equipment between January 1998 and June 2001.

As we now all know, the following week Sun settled the case. For $92M.

As Schwartz blogged before the settlement: "I continue to believe in the protection of ideas conveyed by patents. From drug discovery to academic work, the protection of IP is part and parcel of what incents inventors to invent, and investors to invest."

He was as good as his word.

In this latest blog, too, he would seem to be adopting a plain-speaking approach that is likely to find favor with the developer community.

"There is no single definition of 'user' that encompasses the diversity of the constituencies we [at Sun] serve, or our means of doing so," he continues, in this current essay:

"Note that with the Tiger release of J2SE, the newest NetBeans gathering momentum (and Eclipse converts), and the unveiling of Java Creator, each product uses a different development and licensing model, appropriate to its objectives. J2SE is the result of an extraordinary collaboration between a vibrant and inclusive community, the most pervasive on the net (just go check out who belongs to the Java Community Process). NetBeans is the product of a traditionally defined open source community, churning out enhancements under a vastly different governance model. And then there's Java Studio Creator, built by Sun, just by Sun, as a means of driving to market a Java development tool for fans seeking an open, cross-platform alternative to Visual Basic."
The Java developer, in other words, is served by Sun three different ways. And this is Schwartz's overall point. Again, that key sentence: "The network reaches a market so broad, there can never be one definition, one product or one market."

Once again this looks certain to become a very widely-quoted blog.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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