Peel back the covers of Sun Microsystems' open source software announcements at JavaOne this week and you'll find a company taking a new tack on an old strategy: Sell more hardware.
Those who've been following Sun's recent spate of open source goodwill said they see it as another ploy to do what the vendor has traditionally done best, and think Sun may be warming up to the idea that it may never have a financially successful software business.
"Sun is not a software company -- it's got to be a part of an overall approach," said John Rymer, a vice president for Forrester Research. "Software [for Sun] has always been a way to sell systems -- servers and storage."
"At the end of the day, you've got to make a buck," said Mark Driver, vice president and research analyst with Gartner, of Sun's aim to drive hardware sales by open sourcing more of their software offerings. "Open sourcing creates a kind of commoditizing effect on software."
However, ask a Sun executive whether the company is giving up the fight against Microsoft and IBM to provide a full application infrastructure stack, and you'll get a different story.
While John Loiacono, Sun's software executive vice president, will admit that Sun is and never was trying to be just a software company, he won't admit that Sun is backing down from selling a comprehensive software package that is on par with competitors' offerings.
"Everyone wants to say if you were a stand-alone software business, how much money would you make?" Loiacono said. "As the owner of software, I'm not trying to be a software company. I'm a systems company. My definition of a system is the whole stack. My value is when I put that whole thing together."
This week at the show Sun added two new open source projects to a growing list.
The first was Project GlassFish, which releases Sun's Java Application Server Platform Edition under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), the license it created to release Solaris to the open source community. Sun also unveiled an open source enterprise service business based on the Java Business Integration (JBI) standard.
Sun began its latest open source kick about a year ago when it first unveiled it would open source its proprietary operating system, Solaris. The reason? Linux was eating Solaris for lunch, and Sun's crown jewel of an operating system was losing mindshare among the all-important developer community.
Even Loiacono admitted that a couple of years ago, Solaris development had all but stalled. As soon as Sun revealed it was thinking of open sourcing Solaris -- a project that went live two weeks ago -- that all changed, he said.
"We had lost the discussion a few years ago," Loiacono said. "I couldn't talk to anyone about operating systems. The moment I said I'm going to open source Solaris, the dialogue started."
Rymer said Sun had to start open sourcing more facets of its technology, in particular Solaris, because that's what its developer community wanted the company to do.