Sun Microsystems has had its share of ups and downs through the years. But since the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2000 -- a bubble that made Sun immensely wealthy -- it has indisputably had more downs than ups.
Channeling the spirit of Janis Joplin, who famously sang, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” the company has moved more boldly in recent months. In April, longtime CEO Scott McNealy stepped down, handing the reins to Jonathan Schwartz, Sun’s former COO. Sun has also moved aggressively to fulfill promises to open-source key technologies such as Java and the Solaris operating system.
Perhaps it’s a sign that things are turning around, then, that some of the world-class talent Sun had lost since 2000 has begun to return. Notable among the repatriated Sun executives is Rich Green, who left Sun in 2004 to work for Cassatt and then returned in May to take over as executive vice president of software.
InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill caught up with Green in October to talk about Sun’s new direction.
InfoWorld: You recently left Sun and returned. What’s been the difference with [Jonathan Schwartz] as CEO as opposed to Scott [McNealy]?
Well, I just think after 20-plus years, we have a new, fresh set of eyes working on it. But in addition to the change at the CEO level and my return, you know, there’s been folks like [Chief Architect] Andy Bechtolsheim returning about two years ago, which has had a huge impact on our systems business. And we had Mike Lehman return two or three months before I returned. Mike was the CFO for the company during the ’90s and into the early 2000s. He left and joined the Sun board of directors. And with a sort of reinvigoration of the company, Mike moved from that post to rejoin the company as CFO again.
IW: What’s the status of the open-sourcing of Java at this point?
RG: Well, we announced in May at JavaOne that we’re going to be doing it. We’re still working through some of the issues of licensing and working with all of the partners who have contributed to Java to make sure that we’re all in alignment about the license and intellectual property management in the Java stack. We announced that we will be actually releasing first bits of it before the end of this calendar year, and we’re on track to do so.
IW: Would you say that the Java platform has outlasted the Java language? Are you going to see more scripting languages and the like on the Java Virtual Machine?
RG: I think that’s a really good point. And, in fact, at Sun’s Tech Days [developer forum], I and others discussed the fact that we’ll be heading towards a model in which the virtual machine will be a platform upon which others can host new frameworks and new languages in addition to Java. So we’ll be offering up [the Java Virtual Machine] as a vehicle to promote the development of new languages in addition to Java.
IW: Are there any software innovations in the labs or that are on the drawing board that we might anticipate in the next year, two years, three years that are going to be as dramatic as Java was?
RG: It’s going to be a lot sooner than that. What you’re going to see is sort of a two-step process coming from Sun in the area of essentially Web 2.0 and software-as-a-service offerings. There are a number of trends in the industry that we’re lining up to service. One is to ensure that companies who have enterprise-scale internal solutions can convert those quickly to Web 2.0 customer-facing solutions. You’ll see a lot of activity around that. The other observation is there are thousands of startups out there who are building essentially Web 2.0 service-based solutions that are forced to start from scratch and building a complicated stack of software. There’s a lot of technology that we have to afford to all of these new companies. Some of that is from the labs, some of that is from the software technology programs that we have at Sun. Those are some of the big trends you’ll see coming forward out of Sun.