A Chat with John Fowler, Sun Software CTO

Recently, a few independent departments (Solaris, java, Netscape and other middleware) at Sun Microsystems got integrated into one, the Platform/Software Group. We had a quick chat with Mr John Fowler, Sun Software’s CTO about Solaris 10, Java, the competition and more.Mr Fowler explained to us the targets and aims of Sun Software: Networking (with important keys on integration, SunONE, app_server etc), simplicity (tools and features that help the easy deployment and operation of Sun software, like scalable SMP) and Open Standards (fully endorsed with Java and other technologies).

John Fowler, Sun Software CTO We asked Mr. Fowler what he thinks about the competition between SunONE and Microsoft’s NET platforms. At this point it was clear that Mr. Fowler is a realist: “Microsoft has good marketing,” he said. He expects that Microsoft will tout of .NET’s rapid growth, but he points out that rapid growth would be no surprise: “When you already have a huge userbase and development community as well as excellent tools and capabilities, having an instant growth is, to some extent, normal”. He believes that .NET will continue to enjoy growth, and due to the fact that Microsoft’s platforms and tools already have a huge installed base in the corporate world, the Java and .NET platforms will share the market. As for J#, “if it has the same non-portability problems like Visual J++ had, it will be a problem for companies who would like to endorse both the .NET and Java platforms” (and Mr Fowler sees a lot of companies actually endorsing both in the future). “But if the code is actually portable, then it is good for all” he said.

As to who will be a winner, for Mr Fowler, this is an easy answer: “Whoever will solve the customer’s problems. However, we believe that Java’s upcoming XML, JSR and Java Language Directory capabilities will be a boost for the Sun platform”.

When we asked about a possible open source of Solaris source code under a less restrictive license, Mr Fowler replied that the possibility is not out of the question, but for now, Sun is already successful licensing the Solaris source code for a fee to several others, so there is no reason to do so. The price is high for corporations (i.e. Fujitsu), but educational organizations receive a lower price.

We also asked about Gnome2’s inclusion in an upcoming Solaris release, and we learned that the Gnome2 beta will be included in the next Update2 of Solaris, as the second desktop environment of choice after CDE. However, Gnome2 is scheduled to replace CDE on Solaris 10, a version that it is expected to have the first beta sometime in 2003. In fact, Sun engineers made a big check-in on Gnome2’s source code where they brought localization to a new standard and they are proud for this work.

Mr Fowler is clear about the direction of Sun though: The target is not the home user. While Solaris 9 will be available as an individual purchase, it is still not targeting a desktop market. Not even the Red Hat Linux version of Sun that will be available next year is after the desktop market, but the enterprise corporate desktop. “Going after Microsoft in the desktop market is just simply impractical” Mr Fowler said. Mr Fowler realizes that a lot of additional software might be needed to be downloaded and installed separately by admins, for example, multimedia software. As for Solaris 10, its focus will still be the server and most importantly, the app-server function.

Regarding Business Intelligence and data mining software, Sun has no plans to offer a direct solution. Instead, every time there is such a need for one of their partners or customers, Sun has good relationship with Oracle or Sybase or other ISVs that can offer co-operative solutions, based on Sun’s hardware.

When we asked about the Apple XServe product and if this is a serious competition for Sun, Mr Fowler made clear that they do not perceive it as such: “The XServe is a good job, but it is no competition for us. It targets a very specific crowd: Apple customers”.


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