Sun's Rich Green: Open source Java due in late-2006, 2007

Executive also discusses CEO shift

Rich Green is in his second incarnation at Sun Microsystems, returning in May as executive vice president for software at the company. He is responsible for the Solaris Enterprise System, including the Solaris OS, the Java Enterprise System suites, N1 management software, Sun Studio and Java Studio developer tools. Green also heads up a variety of industry-standards efforts and open source communities. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill met with Green last Friday at Sun offices in Menlo Park, Calif. to discuss the open-sourcing of Java and Solaris, as well as a number of other topics pertaining to the company, including the recent changing of the guard at the CEO level at Sun.

InfoWorld: You had left Sun and returned. What was that about?

Rich Green: Oh gosh, it seems like such old news at this point. I left Sun in 2004, after wrapping up the Microsoft litigation, and went off to try my hand in the startup world and joined up with Bill Coleman at Cassatt Corporation and worked there for two years pulling together the whole product and product strategy program and getting that business off the ground. Then had the opportunity to come back to Sun to run software, and once Sun is in your blood it’s hard to shake it and I couldn’t resist the opportunity. So I returned in May of 2006.

IW: What was your role at Sun in the previous incarnation?

Green: I was the head of Java and developer tools and programs.

IW: So, this has only been a few months that you’ve been back?

Green: Yes, about five months.

IW: Did your return have anything to do with Jonathan Schwarz taking over as the CEO?

Green: Well, the events weren’t timed. Certainly, having Jonathan move to the CEO post, I think, has been a healthy thing for Sun. But they were separate events.

IW: What’s been the difference with him as CEO as opposed to Scott McNealy as CEO?

Green: Well, I just think after 20-plus years, we have a new fresh set of eyes working on it. And actually the good news is we now have [two] sets of eyes looking at it, with Scott as Chairman and Jonathan as CEO, it’s a pretty powerful group of folks looking out for the company and driving our success. So it seems like a win-win task for both [of the guys]. In addition to the change at the CEO level and my return, there’s been folks like 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 Lehman is CFO.

IW: So what are your goals for the software group at Sun?

Green: Well, there’s two categories really. We have a growing middleware-based solutions business, fromWeb 2.0 to other technologies. And we’re focusing a lot of our energy on growing the solutions business significantly in the market. And with the acquisition of our SeeBeyond technology, which is now called Java CAPS (Composite Application Platform Suite), as well as our identity management solutions leading the solutions phase, that’s one of the two big areas of activity. The other big area of activity is all around Solaris and Solaris 10. We open-sourced Solaris about a year ago. We’ve had enormous uptake on Solaris in terms of more than six million licensed downloads, a growing community of developers and contributors, and that whole program is accelerating very nicely, sort of coupled with our entire open source program for all of Sun Software.

IW: Do you see any other areas where you might want to do any acquisitions?

Green: Well, if we do, you’ll ultimately find out.

IW: Are there any other areas where you’re pondering it?

Green: Well, we really have four businesses or four distinct focal points in our software business. We have our developer programs and business, we have our mobile and embedded business where we’ve been really successful with Java on handsets. We crossed a one billion handset mark a couple of months ago. We have our whole Web and middleware business and the Solaris business. And in each of these areas, we look to figure out if there are growth opportunities organically or through acquisition. We’re putting a lot of energy into each of them, and certainly the first two I cited are critically important to Sun’s success. So I think that’s the best way to look at the prioritization of that work.

IW: Sun has been criticized for coming up with technologies and not making any money off of them. How would you respond to that? I'm thinking of Java and maybe NFS (Network File System).

Green: Well, I guess I strongly disagree. You know, I think it’s a comment more on accounting than it is on business. We don’t publish our software number breakout and I think that may drive some of the concerns of others. But when you look at the position of Solaris in the industry as the preeminent a Unix platform and increasingly growing in leadership in the open source operating system space, it would be hard to question whether or not our software investment in that area has contributed to the company’s success. Our developer programs [are] driving new applications and new ISVs to our platform. In fact, in 2006, we doubled the number of developers enrolled in our Sun Developer Network Program, which is our whole developer campaign. These are going from one million to two million developers. These are folks who are directly connected and affiliated with Sun as developers.

IW: Is Sun making more or less money from Solaris since you open sourced it?

Green: We don’t release the financial figures, but certainly the growth in the open source activity is probably an indicator of how we’re doing as a business.

IW: What’s the status of the open-sourcing of Java at this point?

Green: 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. So it’s a very exciting time to move that whole program along.

IW: It’s going to be done in a kind of an incremental fashion?

Green: As we noted, there are blocks of code that we’ll be open sourcing initially and we’ll get the whole lot done through the first quarter of the next calendar year. So it will be a continuous process. All of Java SE and all of Java ME should be completed, in terms of open source availability, by the end of the first quarter of calendar ’07.

IW: And what about the Enterprise Edition?

Green: Well, the Enterprise Edition is already open source. The GlassFish Project was released as open source last year. And so that was the first step in the open source availability of Java, and these are the next two steps.

IW: How are you addressing the potential for forking and what’s really the difference between open source Java and the way it always was?

Green: Well, the truth of this is that Java, for the last year or two, has been developed in a completely open forum. You know, GlassFish, the latest release of SE, have all been available in source code form for developers to read and review and comment on for the last 18 months. And so from the aspect of transparency and open source, that’s already been done. The issue here is really focused around changing the license, and in that regard, it’s a significant change in the industry in terms of availability and flexibility. The real value to us is being able to make Java available to all of those organizations and all of those distributions who require an open source style license for inclusion in their [distributions], inclusion in their ISV products or their open source programs. And so this is really almost a licensing version of compatibility. By making this stuff available not only as transparent access to the code which we’ve already done, but changing it so that the legal description of access, there is likely to be a much greater uptake of Java in many of the open source programs in the industry.

IW: Now, would you say that Sun is doing the open-sourcing kind of kicking and screaming or is this is being done willfully?

Green: You know, I dragged on it for years. It was my fifth day back when we announced it. And so I think it was -- is on my list of really critically important items to get behind us. I think that the world has changed a lot. With regard to compatibility, compatibility can be seen as being managed in a number of ways. One, by offering tests and suites to ensure that the technology is in fact compatible. But the largest collection of compatibility tests in the Java world are all of the millions of applications on the desktop, on the handset, on the server, that have been produced out there. And so there is an increasing body of work that compels anybody dealing with Java to keep the technology compatible, because if it isn’t, apps won’t run and people will reject the variants that people create. So my assessment, and I think the assessment of many at Sun, is we’re at the point now where there is such a mass of application investment that the risk of incompatibility is extremely low and thus it’s time to do it.

IW: Has the Java platform outlasted Java language. Are we going to see more scripting languages and the like on the Java Virtual Machine rather than people just sticking strictly to using the Java language?

Green: I think that’s a really good point. And, in fact, at Sun’s first instance of our 9th annual season of Sun Tech Days, 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. And I just think this is of value. As we see more people innovating at the language level and at the framework level, they are forced to produce virtual machine technology that is not nearly as mature and robust as the Java VM. And so we’ll be offering up that platform as a vehicle to promote the development of new languages in addition to Java. So we still see the number of developers migrating to Java growing all the time, the numbers are very positive. The number of developers, as I said, doubled in 2006. But there’s more that people want to do, we have great technology to foster that work, and we’re doing it.

IW: Are there any other specific areas of focus you have at Sun right now?

Green: Well, you know, as I said, I think that we’ve also seen enormous growth and we’re seeing sort of a redoubling of focus in our middleware area, whether it’s the Java Enterprise System or solutions directly powered by the Java CAPS SOA technology and our identity program. The real dramatic business increase that we’re seeing is all around identity. In particular, the push up to increasing amount of distributed network computing solutions, software-as-a-service base activities, SarbOx and Homeland Security compliance, are all driving people to provide a very robust, very scalable identity, identity management, and identity-provisioning solution in all these areas. We have the No. 1 rated product by analysts in that space, in our identity solution as well as our SOA technology. And it’s a huge area of interest in the industry and a big success for Sun.

IW: How is the interoperability arrangement with Microsoft going and is Sun making any special provisions for the upcoming Windows Vista operating system?

Green: Well, the [interoperability] program continues to move ahead. We announced a Web services-based interoperability technology at JavaOne, and that stuff is available for download on the Web and people are using it. The Vista program, we’re looking at very closely for other interoperability activities. Right now our focus is to ensure that all Vista customers have the latest version of Java SE available to them, and so we’re working to ensure that the downloads and bundles from OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] have a version of Java that works perfectly well with Vista. So that’s really our near-term focus, is Java and Vista integration.

IW: How is Solaris doing as far as competing with Linux these days?

Green: Well, the growth rates are remarkably high with Solaris. Going from zero to six million licensed downloads in about a year is a very impressive comment in the industry, and having 16,000 developers in communities contributing to the technology, etc., all speak to a much higher growth rate than we’re seeing in Linux or Red Hat or SuSE right now. You know, we’re only a year into the program. You’ll see a lot more activity this year in open source availability, community building, developer programs around Solaris 10 in the next year. I think you’ll see even further acceleration in Solaris 10.

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 maybe be as dramatic as Java was?

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2