Interview: Schwartz drives Linux into the enterprise

Sun's executive VP of software argues case for credible OS, desktop alternative

DRIVING SUN MICROSYSTEMS' mission to reclaim its status as a significant force in the Linux community at LinuxWorld Conference & Expo this week is Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president of software. And with the dark clouds of Microsoft and IBM hanging overhead, Schwartz argued during an interview Monday with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Test Center Director Steve Gillmor, and News Editor Mark Jones that the enterprise call for a credible OS and desktop alternative is getting louder.

InfoWorld: What is the significance of Sun's Linux announcements at the show?

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Schwartz: We are [jumping] feet first into the Linux community. Even though we have been [there] for an awfully long time, now we are actually going to back it up with hardware [the LX50 server]. Unbeknownst to many, we are one of the leading contributors, if not the leading contributors of the Linux community. And the reason that is -- and everyone forgets this -- is Linux was originally built to go take on Microsoft. I know IBM wants to use it to go repurpose mainframes, but the reality is StarOffice on Linux clients. The client market is the only market that grew for Linux last year. IDC said that, not us.

The other opportunity is on the low-end server, where Sun really hasn't played for an awfully long time. We've had these 64-bit big, honking Solaris datacenter [servers], and we left behind the 32-bit marketplace a long time ago on the assumption that everyone was going to move to 64-bit. Well, oops, it turns out that 32-bit Intel processors is where the belly of the market is for these really low-end, for the most part simple, Web servers. The mission-critical application for all these Linux boxes out there, the killer app, is Apache. And by the way, what else do you run alongside Apache? You run directories, you run portals, you run calendaring, you run some basic messaging, you do some intrusion detection, you get some security -- and so that's exactly what we are going to deliver on our Cobalt server.

And the thing that IBM doesn't want to talk about is the fact that there is a great database that runs at the edge of the Web called MySQL. You don't need to go pay for a DB2, and our app server is free. You don't need to pay $50,000 a CPU for what IBM wants to do here.

InfoWorld: In terms of market share numbers, open source seems to have the largest share of the app server space.

Schwartz: I don't really think that. I think No. 3 from a revenue perspective has been Sun, with No. 1 being BEA and No. 2 [being] IBM. They have been monetizing the early adoption of J2EE, but at the end of the day the software at some point ends up being a commodity. Given that we have been No. 3 on the revenue side, we don't have a lot to lose by standing behind the open-source guys saying "Rock on, let's go make it happen." So that's exactly what we're going to do.

InfoWorld: What's the uptake on MySQL these days in corporate environments?

Schwartz: It's at 100 percent of every Linux distribution out there, 100 percent. And by the way, PostgreSQL is at about 80 percent.

InfoWorld: So what accounts for Oracle claiming millions of people have downloaded Oracle for Linux?

Schwartz: I think Oracle would really love to see a new operating system emerge. It's a new market for Oracle. The issue is the horse is well out of the barn, and by the way, free in the Linux community means free -- not "free except for my stuff, except the stuff we want you to pay for." And I think IBM's got that problem in spades. A lot of the air war on this is on the server side. But the adoption on the server side has been to displace all those file and print servers where Microsoft has been extracting a monopoly rent. IBM would love to go stick Linux on a mainframe and say, "Look, the mainframe really does matter. We're going to have 'mainframe ONE' and go bring all these new developers in town." Not happening. All the action is ultimately going to be at this file- and print-server level, and then just driving [that] out onto the desktop. I mean, we've had 5 million downloads of StarOffice. We're the No. 1 office productivity suite at Amazon, [at] all the major retailers. We're shipping at Walmart now through Lindows. We haven't been very good at talking about that. And we're going to change that within the next 30 to 60 days. We're on 100 percent of the Linux distributions. And again, the Linux marketplace is growing on the client. It's not growing on the server; it shrank last year on the server, as did many clients.

InfoWorld: When are we going to start hearing about your desktop strategy?

Schwartz: Come see us at the SunNetwork conference. But my, isn't it interesting that the largest single open-source activity is StarOffice, followed closely by Mozilla? Wouldn't it be interesting if something interesting happened with Java, too?

InfoWorld: There is a perception in the Linux community that unlike Linux, Java is not completely free.

Schwartz: The issue we have had with Java is that the Linux community doesn't care about compatibility. There is this thing called LSB, the Linux Standards Base. Well, RedHat is not LSB compliant, neither is Mandrake, neither is SuSe, neither is Debian. So compatibility hasn't mattered all that much. In our view of the world, when we say J2ME is a standard, that means DTT DoCoMo, Vodaphone, Nokia, Samsung, Ericcsion, and Orange need to have write-once run-anywhere [reliability]. One of the things we can definitely deliver into the marketplace, which we are doing as of today, [is] drive the standard LSB, what Linus [Torvalds] calls a standard Linux.

InfoWorld: Are many companies working with Jini?

JS: Come see us at SunNetwork. What we're beginning to see with Jini is we were way ahead of our time and we were way in front of our headlights. The notion of autonomous networks wasn't such a big thing back then. We're still in this burp and fetch mode where you burp a bunch of data or fetch a bunch of data. There wasn't a lot of "How do you get a network to autonomously aggregate and make itself useful for other purposes?"

InfoWorld: What connections do you see between Jini and grid computing?

Schwartz: The problem with grid computing is you need to know which CPUs are available, and if you do this in the burp and fetch mode, you end up doing a lot of slow "OK, I'm available now." What Jini allows you to do is [say] "All of these people are now available. We know that because they have gathered themselves together and broadcasted their availability." A lot of the next-generation elements of network computing are beginning to evolve, and I think Linux is beginning to facilitate that because, in a way, Linux runs in exactly those instances where the OS no longer matters. That's not meant as disrespect [to] the Linux community. If you look at set-top boxes, the seat backs of airplanes, medical equipment, vending machines ... you are writing to the layer above the OS. That is exactly what Sun ONE is all about, it's exactly what Java and Jini are all about.

InfoWorld: If you look at Microsoft's .Net server's that will ship in 2003, the licensing model for client access licenses is being pushed throughout the server farm. That would seem to be a point were you have some traction.

Schwartz: We have traction today. .Net failed. And why did .Net fail? For a couple of reasons: One, because no one knows what the hell .Net is. And the other is because the reality is .Net was all about getting Microsoft's hands into your pockets. Your subscribers, your customers.

InfoWorld: But what is the economic value proposition for moving to StarOffice? What do you have on the desktop for instant messaging, for example?

Schwartz: We have our own instant messaging client and there are a hundred open-source messaging clients. But is that going to be our central thrust of what would be a client strategy? No. That's not what 100 percent of users are doing now. 100 percent are looking at the Web. 100 percent are looking at e-mail. 100 percent are doing basic office productivity. We still have work to do on the client. The only thing that's evident is [Microsoft's] Software Assurance's licensing policies are just getting out of control. It's creating a lot more impetus and energy.

InfoWorld: When .Net first went out it was a marketing architecture. Today you can see some technical components starting to fit together. It seems like Sun ONE is on a similar trajectory pattern.

Schwartz: You want to know the tie that binds? Java -- Java runs on the smart card, set-top box, wireless device, telematics system. I'm actually one of the people that understands .Net. I think it's a brilliant strategy, it's terrific. There's only one issue: In order for them to succeed they need to own all of your customers. And you may not agree with that, but Passport is the central element of .Net. So we don't have that problem. Has the world resolved [into] two architectures? Yes. .Net and Java. And who are going to be the people that provide Java? Sun. Do we have our work to do around making sure Sun ONE is as well orchestrated as one would suggest? Absolutely. I'm not going to stand here and say no.

InfoWorld: How does Sun approach the fact that Microsoft is leveraging its ability to foster low-cost VisualBasic developers? Companies will lean toward getting a VB developer for $40 an hour vs. the $150 an hour for a Java developer.

Schwartz: The majority of what you call VB developers are people who wrote Excel macros -- the vast majority. Are we going to find macro-level functionality in the spreadsheet? Absolutely. Are we there now? No, we have programming APIs, but we'll get there.

InfoWorld: Why is Sun still getting shut out of WS-I [Web Services Interoperability Organization]?

Schwartz: Why don't you go talk to IBM and Microsoft? The thing that I thought was really scary was an analyst said to me [last week] "I hate the fact that IBM and Microsoft just came and did a joint briefing to me. We think [with] that whole WS-I [debate], they're driving a huge wedge into the industry." What the Linux community needs to be aware of is that to the extent that we have identified Microsoft as an enemy, Microsoft's best friend right now is IBM. And if the two of them are going to go doing joint briefings, then the two of them are going to go set the monopoly standards. You want to know what gets Sun employees up at night and driving hard, working weekends, it's that kind of crap. So we will go drive Linux like a wedge. We will go hollow out DB2 and WebSphere with either a free database or a free app server, and we will continue driving into their core domain on the high end off their mainframe and off their high-end mainframe AIX systems. Am I pissed off about their WS-I? Yeah.

The fact is, Linux opens up more markets for us right now than it closes for us.

InfoWorld: Should we still refer to Sun as a systems company? What's the status of software inside Sun?

Schwartz: [Software is] the single largest R&D line inside Sun. We spent more money on software than on any other element of R&D.

InfoWorld: Clearly, you're using Intel chips now.

Schwartz: AMD, please. Supplied by a Korean manufacturer. So what's the answer [to your previous question]? We're a systems company. Are we a software contender? Absolutely. We happen to have very popular platform. It's called Java and Sun ONE. But are we a software company? No. Another interesting vignette for you is that we can go out into the world with a Linux box, we can give away the Apache Web server, we can give away Postgres, a free directory, a free messaging system, a free calendar and free portal, a free infrastructure. All of it for free for 100 users and we can still make money. Microsoft can't. So what happens to Dell now? Where are they going to go get [software] from? They have to pay Oracle, they have to pay RedHat, they have to pay somebody -- so they are going to get squeezed. So am I feeling pretty peckish about the opportunity right now? Yeah. We can make life really hard for Microsoft by giving away the software. And Dell has got to find that software from somewhere, and believe me when they come to me and ask for it, it ain't going to be free.

InfoWorld: Do you have the traction with [CEO] Scott [McNealy] to execute this strategy?

Schwartz: Go ask him. He's let a lot of wolves out of their cages. What he said when [former President and COO] Ed [Zander] left was -- he brought us all into a room -- "I tell you what guys, my job didn't change, yours did. Get on with it." I have 5,000 people who are all raring to go, and we're all worried about the latitude we have because that's a lot of freedom. We drive an enormous part of this industry. Everything down to a game developer in Singapore who sends me an e-mail about how he gets his product to market, and I realize the impact of our systems software across the whole entire planet. Yeah, that keeps us up at night. It keeps me up at night. I've got a hard job, I just realized 30 days into it. It's one of the best jobs in the whole world.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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