Hoping to lure new customers with open source software, Sun Microsystems has now added a database to its planned line-up of open-source products, joining its Solaris operating system and other products. But what's in it for customers, and who's going to care?
Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and chief operating officer, is in France this week for the 3GSM World Congress in Cannes. IDG News Service and Le Monde Informatique, an IDG France magazine, caught up with him at Sun's offices in Paris to talk about its open source plans, Sparc chips, and other products. He also had some advice for Carly Fiorina's successor at Hewlett-Packard. Following is an edited transcript of the interview:
IDG: What's the main benefit for your customers of making Solaris open source, and which types of customers will it appeal to?
Schwartz: We're obviously serving our existing customers with the existing Solaris. Open source Solaris is a means of reaching new Solaris customers, and customers who have decided to run on HP, Dell, IBM, or any of 400 other equipment makers' hardware. Customers have articulated a preference for running open source software -- customers who want to interact with the source code and maybe modify it to experiment with performance, or just out of curiosity. It really opens a world of new customers.
IDG: Do existing customers benefit, too?
Schwartz: Of course. There is no downside to being an open-source operating system; transparency is a good thing.
IDG: What types of new customers do you expect to attract?
Schwartz: Given the pricing model attached to it -- which is free -- it's a wonderful way of appealing to a broad new set of markets. The barriers to adopting Solaris have been reduced to zero. As to which markets it will open, I think everything from the Brazilian government, which has expressed a preference for open source software, to academic environments that want a good teaching platform.
IDG: Does Sun have a concrete plan to offer an open source database, or was Scott McNealy just being provocative when he suggested that recently?
Schwartz: To be a complete application platform you have to have some form of persistent storage. You can achieve that through a file system, a directory engine, a messaging store, the persistence engine in our application server -- those are all forms of databases. What we haven't done is address the SQL access database, which has been served well in the open source community by MySQL and PostgreSQL. We're committed to filling the hole -- all of the hole, not just the file system. We have to address the requirements of the SQL database, so I think we're quite serious about it.
IDG: Would you use the same model as you did with Linux on the Java Desktop System, i.e. take an existing open source product, tweak it for your needs and put a Sun label on it?
Schwartz: That's to be determined. Customers have said, 'We'd like an alternative to the existing choices we have.' And they are consistently asking Sun to go work on that issue.
IDG: So it's a matter of when and not if?
IDG: If Solaris for x86-type processors turns out to be popular, doesn't that mean a decline in your Sparc business? How do you balance the two?