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1. While Sun has always had its say in the open source world, it has really turned it up these past few years. We've seen two of the most prestigious Sun software products become free software -- meaning, of course, Solaris and Java. Now, I have several questions related to this topic:
1. What do you see as the biggest gain this trend has brought to the company?
The single biggest gain is, fundamentally, adoption. Getting more and more people to download, explore, learn about, appreciate, and deploy Sun technology. And the second biggest is community contribution. Building not only communities of users of the technology, but more and more people who have looked inside the technology and now begin to contribute back. So, by far, it's the adoption and community contribution.
2. Even with OpenSolaris, the development process, especially of the operating system, is still quite strict. Are there any plans to relax the rules as the OpenSolaris community grows?
In fact, there are. And the steps going forward that you'll see in the next couple of months have to do with people learning how to develop in as well as on OpenSolaris, and building up a package repository hierarchy that allows us to create a multi-level contribution model. The issue is that at the kernel level, you have to be really careful about contributions because, well, it's the kernel.
But right now we have the control over the kernel affecting how we do it all. And where we are headed in the next two months, is rolling out a hierarchy that allows lots and lots of people to contribute at other levels of Solaris without having the strict care necessary at the kernel level. We're learning a lot from Ian Murdock about how Debian is built and managed, and using a lot of those principles to create a world in which there can be a hierarchy of repositories, a distributed collection of repositories, each having their own set of principles of how they're managed.
3. What changes did open-sourcing mean for your internal development processes? Did you have to adapt to your products being open source?
Oh yeah. It was quite challenging. And I don't mean that negatively, it's just that it requires a lot of changes, the changes are all over the place. Whether it's moving from an internal source code management system to something like Mercurial, whether it's doing all the development outside of the firewall or inside of the firewall, whether it's realizing that a significant percent of your time has to be spent working with the community, not just individually coding and then just delivering things to the community. But working with the community, figuring out what needs to be done and who should be doing what.
Those are all technical and cultural changes that have taken time. We had a lot to learn about community development and various groups were further ahead than others. NetBeans was first, Glassfish, I think, was second in terms of the time spent. But I think the community does have a huge amount of benefit from Sun. We have a lot of brilliant technical people who are now contributing to open source technologies. We're also rather expert at assembling things, not just writing code. And we are conferring those skills to the open source community as well. The kind of stuff I've just mentioned with repositories and build techniques, and so on.
4. You expressed sympathies towards the GPL version 3. What reasons do you have for preferring it over version 2?
There are a few reasons that tend to liberalize access in some areas. We generally feel the more open the better. That said, we're still a commercial business and there are capabilities and qualities of licensing that compel us to actually favor GPL both 2 a 3. So, we are a very GPL-centric company. And it's evidenced by what MySQL does, they're a GPL-centric company as well. We did announce the first GPLv3 project about four months ago, I think. This was xVM server. You can view that as an indicator of where we're headed but we don't have any dates for what goes next.
5. Should the licence situation ever allow it, how would you feel about possible code-sharing between Solaris and Linux?
I think, in the long term, that is where we're going to end up. It's inevitable and it's a great thing. I was going to ask you when do you think Linux will be GPLv3. And that could be the conversion point for us. It might be that that's the right time for Linux and Solaris code to go to that form of licensing allowing infinite code-sharing. We certainly consider that a possibility. But it's an inevitability and a great thing for the code to be shared.
2. You oversee quite a lot of projects and activities within Sun. Which one would you label the most exciting at this time?
Oh, gosh. I love all my children equally. It actually is a bit of an unfair question. I think there are a number of key programs at Sun that are focused specifically on Sun's open source software strategy that we're pushing very hard to accelerate. So it's a list, there isn't a single one. I'll say a little bit about NetBeans. In some respects it was a pioneer of our open source model. It was the first major program delivered as open source technology, it was the first open source program to build a massive community. It's the first major program to achieve a level of download, registration, and adoption. That is all part of Sun's open source business model.
Since then we open-sourced pretty much everything else. One of the critical programs that we're involved in right now, in addition to NetBeans, is OpenSolaris. The changes that we're making to Solaris structurally, such as the IPS packaging system, and the Linux familiarity, as well as just the fundamental capabilities of doing community development, make it a very important project for us. We're doing a lot of work with Java, now we're focused much more on consumers, and now it's open source as well, so that's a big program.
Glassfish is probably the second big open source activity for Sun as it's the furthest along in terms of success and adoption. It started a year before open-sourcing Java itself.
Consistent with our open source business model is MySQL. You may've heard the small thing that we've done. MySQL is a very interesting organization. They're the fastest growing open source database in the world, They have 70 percent of the open source database deployments in the world. But they're also a microcosm of the Sun open source business model. Making available a fully formed, fully functional development and deployment platforms, selling additional functionality and services on top of that, building enormous levels of adoption, and doing it with the standard open source license.
So, it's a pretty long list. I think the new one is xVM server, a virtualization technology. That's probably the newest major open source program at Sun. At that's just beginning to come to fruition.
3. When you left the company in 2004, the media thought it was because you were – to put it bluntly – disgusted with the Microsoft deal. Are there any hard feelings?
The honest truth then and now is: I was not disgusted at all and in fact I was a part of the team that finalized the settlement. And I was pleased with it. Let me tell you why. The best thing about the Microsoft settlement was that it was settled. And I was extremely anxious... from the moment I took over the Java organization in 1999, it was clear that the impact of having litigation – affecting the entire company and the entire software team – was a very draining distraction. And as important as it was, because I'm fully convinced we were doing the right thing in pursuing the litigation, it was critically important to settle it.
So I was always in favor of figuring out a way to settle, and I was pleased when we did, I was pleased with the results of the settlement. And it had nothing to do with me leaving, other than it was a convenient time for a change. It was a moment when I sat back and said: I did that, I ran Solaris and I think it was quite successful, I led the Java team, I led and was involved in the Microsoft litigation, and it had come to a close and I could consider a change. It was enough time after 14 years at Sun it was like “I want to try a start-up”, so I left and did that. And I enjoyed it for a while, and it was only through Jonathan's excellent negotiation skills that he convinced me to return.
4. You actually left Sun on the same day the deal was announced. Was that some kind of intended symbolism?
I wish I could say yes, it would be absolutely brilliant. But it was coincidental. They were late. I was waiting for the finality to complete that, for Sun and for myself. But I didn't expect them to be done the same day, that was coincidental. But I wasn't going to leave before that was done.
5. While Sun has dropped the complaint against Microsoft about network protocol specifications in the EU quite a long time ago, the European Commission has, in the meantime, ruled against Microsoft. Do you think Sun might have perhaps quit a bit too early?
(laughter) You mean quitting this cause? When you look back in time, we've changed our perspective on this. We had a specific point of view with regard to Java and the Java license. That was the center of our initial case. But once that was resolved, the principal focus for Sun was not pursuing competitors but pursuing customers. So, you've seen us change our perspective of where our priorities are, where our greatest priorities are. Obviously, we've always been customer driven but I think you noticed in the last two years we've said very little about any of our competitors. We don't comment on Microsoft or any of the other companies that you hear. You occasionally hear something but it's extremely modest. We have really changed our tune because we're much more customer focused and customer driven, and I'd rather talk about that than the EU.
6. Sun supports Oracle software on its hardware but with MySQL in the family do you plan to push MySQL to the enterprise segment instead of Oracle, or do you see the two happily coexisting?
It's the latter. When you look at where MySQL has been massively successful, it isn't in the enterprise, it's not the core of the enterprise, and that's not their design center. Mårten Mickos is very clear about MySQL being the first database to have been designed in the Internet era. It's designed for web-based deployments, for horizontal scaling, and for a whole bunch of other transactional and non-transactional deployments that are less focused on core enterprise deployments than on web-based deployments on a very very large scale. And to me, in that context, both can coexist. We're great partners with Oracle, we each help the other make a lot of money, that isn't going to change, I don't want to stop that. Also, if you look at MySQL's customer list, it is by and large not Oracle's.
So what we have done with this acquisition, is that we've essentially doubled our customer list. We don't want to make one customer list into the other. We're very happy to have successful products in each of these markets – one we own, one we partner for. So that's the goal.
The other point is, as evidenced by what've seen in open source community activities, software in general is adoption-led, not top-down driven. I don't think it would be fair to assume that if we pushed MySQL into the enterprise that that would be a successful endeavor. What we do see is that there are numerous enterprises who have been and will continue to consider MySQL for certain deployments in the enterprise. If they do so, that's great. But the customer list that is so appealing to Sun, that has been MySQL's, is additive to Sun's existing customer base.
Jonathan Schwarz, Rich Green, Mårten Mickos (MySQL), & Greg Papadopoulos
7. When you announced the acquisition of MySQL, many people thought you were trying to beat Oracle to the prize. Was that part of the thinking?
I actually have no idea who the other bidders were, or if there were other bidders. I think this has come out in the press but Jonathan and I each have known Mårten Mickos for many years, five or six years. I have been interested in bringing MySQL closer to Sun for many years. Before I left I was hoping that we could reach agreement like this one but it wasn't to be then. We finally got to that point. Who knows who else was trying.
I do think, in addition to purchase price, because there are many companies with even deeper pockets than Sun in the Silicon Valley in the tech industry, I think the appeal of Sun, beyond just dollars, was the commonality of our culture and our business models, and that's a case where we were unique. Because we're the biggest open source company in world, very focused on GPLv2, very focused on downloads and adoptions driving business. I'm not sure who else would be appealing.
8. Virtualization is the new buzzword. And Sun has added to the hype by acquiring Innotek. What can we expect from this field?
Sun's view of virtualization goes far beyond the current view which is focused on data-center consolidation or server consolidation. It is much more about server consolidation moving into dynamic data-centers. The ability to use virtualization technology in the data-center to remove the sticky binding between software and hardware so that you can build up and manage a data-center where software is being upgraded and migrated independently of the hardware. And the design center for xVM server is to include this server consolidation but move all the way to real dynamic data-centers.
Similarly, on the developer side, there is an ongoing challenge for developers to be able to deploy on their laptops or desktops the deployment environments that they're writing for. Typically you run Windows or Linux and you might be compiling for Linux or Solaris or Windows and you would like to have a version of your data-center on your desktop, irrespective of the host operating system. So one of the virtues of Innotek is to provide the mechanism to be able to say: if you're a developer we can now allow you to deploy the operating systems, the deployment platforms on your desktop that you'll be deploying in the big. We also allow you to experiment with new operating systems like OpenSolaris, even if you're running Windows as your day-to-day operating system. So it's that continuum of value that drove us to acquire Innotek.
They're a very cool company, btw. Their technology is... this is no hyping. A lot of people have looked at it and reviewed it, it's very cool stuff. They're very smart guys.
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