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Sun CEO Reviews Company's Prospects for 2009-10

The three forward-looking entries Jonathan Schwartz has produced so far in this series are miniature masterpieces

Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz has been reviewing Sun's three major strategic imperatives, and the company's progress going in to its next fiscal year. As industry blogs go, the three entries he's produced so far are miniature masterpieces. A fourth and last one is on its way.

The first in the series, titled "Understanding Sun in Three Easy Steps," kicks off with the bright and breezy intro:

"We're approaching the end of our fiscal year, and given all the swirl in the economy, I thought it worthwhile to restate where Sun's headed as a company, to let customers, partners, employees and investors see and understand where we're headed. Clarity's always useful, doubly so in times of uncertainty."

But it isn't long before Schwartz shows us how he's earned his reputation as one of the industry's most insightful bloggers, with a natural ear for a ringing phrase:

"I'm neither worried about the role information technology will play in the economy, nor am I worried about the relevance of Sun's offerings. I'm not worried about the future, I'm focused on its arrival date." [emphasis added]

In his second post. Schwartz gets down to his real message, namely Sun's strategic imperatives.

They are, in order, he says:

1. Technology Adoption
2. Commercial Innovation
3. Efficiently Connecting 1. and 2.

and it is in the course of his further explanation that perhaps the best passages in the three blogs published so far occur.

At one point, for example, he seeks to explain "positive option value." It strongly bears reproduction in full:

"Not to dip into finance 101, when the net present value of a lifetime revenue cycle exceeds the value of a one time purchase, a product or service that initiates the payment stream is either freely distributed (if it has no marginal cost, like software), or subsidized (if it has a hard cost). That's why you see so many free credit cards, free checking account, free mobile phones, free month's rent, free social networking, etc. In the technology world, free is the new black.

Free Markets

That's also why the internet's most valuable brands are *all* free - Amazon, Google, EBay, Skype, Yahoo!, Facebook, Hi5, MySpace, Baidu, TenCent, etc. Those brands reach more and have greater affinity than just about any other consumer brands. And in the technology marketplace, Linux, Java, MySQL, Firefox, Apache, Eclipse, NetBeans, OpenOffice.org, OpenSolaris, the same applies - free is a universal price, requires no currency translation, and reaches the longest tail of the market.

Now, could Amazon charge you to shop? Could your bank charge you to open an account? Google charge you to search? Could Sun charge people to download MySQL or OpenOffice.org? Sure, we could also destroy those brands in a matter of days. If you're not free, by definition you miss serving those that can't afford, or aren't ready to pay - which means your audience is capped, or destroyed if your competition is already free.

Microsoft's the only company I didn't include in the above list - and although I consider them a stupendously great brand, they're the only company that can really approximate free while making money on the distribution of their products. The fact is they're bundled on almost every PC across the planet, and appear "free" to the users who use those PC's - they've amassed immense power with their distribution, and few users believe they're paying for Windows when they buy a personal computer.

Thus, to developers (Sun's target market) with Windows PC's, Microsoft's product are, in effect, already free. (As an aside, notice Microsoft inexorably moving toward free distribution, too, to reach new users - at some point, you can't bundle every product on every computer, it'd be like printing a Sunday edition of the newspaper every day of the week).

This is exactly why we freely distribute our key software assets all over the world - if we didn't, users and developers might pick someone else's free product (or simply use the one they assume to be free). And if they picked someone else's product on which to build their business or their application, Sun becomes a reseller - which isn't our mission or business model. It's a free market, in every sense."

In his third blog entry, Schwartz nails Sun's business model even more succinctly:  "We offer utterly exceptional service, support and enterprise technologies to those that have more money than time," he notes. Adding, "It's a good business."

That concision follows an example that Schwartz cites to help once and for all explain how it is that free software and commercially supported software co-exist side by side. I will end by quoting it in full:

"When Free is Too Expensive
One of my favorite customer stories relates to an American company that did nearly 30% of its yearly revenue on Christmas Day. They were a mobile phone company, whose handsets appeared under Christmas trees, opened en masse and provisioned on the internet within about a 48 hour period. When we won the bid to supply their datacenter, their CIO gave me the purchase order on the condition I gave him my home phone number. He said, "If I have any issues on Christmas, I want you on the phone making sure every resource available is solving the problem." I happily provided it (and then made sure I had my direct staff's home numbers). Christmas came and went, no problems at all.

A year later, he was issuing a purchase order to Sun for several of our software products. To have a little fun with him (and the Sun sales rep), I told him before he passed me the purchase order that the products were all open source, freely available for download.

He looked at me, then at his rep, and said "What? Then why am I paying you a million dollars?" I responded, "You can absolutely run it for free. You just can't call me on Christmas day, you'll be on your own." He gave me the PO. At the scale he was running, the cost of downtime dwarfed the cost of the license and support. Numerically, most developers and technology users have more time than money. Most readers of this blog are happy to run unsupported software, and we are very happy to supply it. For a far smaller population, the price of downtime radically exceeds the price of a license or support - for some, the cost of downtime is measured in millions per minute. If you're tracking packages or fleets of aircraft, running an emergency response network or a trading floor, you almost always have more money than time."

Great blogging by Sun's CEO. Keep it coming!

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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