At a conference a few years ago, an acquaintance of mine commented that Sun had some great technology, but unfortunately, “they give away the best of it for free.” He was talking about Java, but it seems that observation still holds true.
At the time, Sun was in the middle of a slide down the Nasdaq that took it from the 60s to its current low idle around 4. The combined threat of Linux and inexpensive Intel hardware was beginning to pry Solaris and Sparc out of data center after data center. And it was unclear what other value Sun could really bring to the table. Many observers were beginning to predict that we were seeing Sun’s last days.
But while some companies in the same position might simply fade quietly into nonexistance, that didn’t seem likely with Sun. CEO Scott McNealy and President Jonathan Schwartz have always struck me as the “just crazy enough to do it” types–a personality trait not commonly seen in senior executives. What if Sun didn’t set? What if it went supernova instead?
It seems we may be finding out. Sun seems destined to open source just about everything it owns–including Solaris and the design behind its recently unveiled Ultrasparc T1 processor. The goal is to drive adoption of Sun technologies by essentially removing the cost of entry for prototyping and testing–and heck, to full deployment if you don’t mind working without the safety net of a Sun support contract.
The logic, so it seems, is that if enough people use the technologies, a significant percentage will come back to Sun to buy support and other add-ons. Genius? Desperation? We’ll know in a couple years.
Even if the open source plan works, it seems like a recipe for making Sun a much smaller company in the long run. And in the cold reality of space, supernovas happen just before suns die.