We had the pleasure of having a quick chat with Sun’s COO, Jonathan Schwartz, yesterday. We talked about a variety of things, including Java, Solaris, Red Hat and good ol’ Unix. Jonathan reminded us that the Test-Drive version of Solaris is available today for everyone to download and try out. The final version of Solaris (commercial release) will be in January and that would be the time that the source will be completely opened as well. He would like to see Solaris scale from small embedded machines (submarines, hospitals) to big mainframes.
Jonathan does not believe that the OpenSolaris will have an impact on BSD’s or Linux’s growth. He doesn’t see these platforms as competitors per se, in terms of growth, but he believes that all these platforms will equally evolve in the future in their own ways, because there is no hammer that fits all nails. Some needs require highly scalable systems, other more secure, other more latency-friendly etc.
Instead, the two companies that he sees as definite competitors are Red Hat and mostly, Microsoft. But he is confident that OpenSolaris will help the Solaris platform in general to keep its robustness and good name in the Enterprise. In fact, he maintains that Solaris has better scalability, affordability and security than any Microsoft OS product currently, plus it runs Java –which is truly cross platform– delivering services that .NET would be able to deliver only on Microsoft products. Points like these make the Sun platform very valuable.
And speaking of the competition, he mentioned that Apple’s focus is not the Enterprise at large and therefore, not a competitor: “That’s not Steve’s focus”. Jonathan has several Macs to his home and his family owns some more too. We should not forget where Jonathan comes from, either: the NeXTSTEP community, right before Sun purchased his software company. Jonathan likes Mac OS X a lot and he believes that Apple should continue to innovate in its field and continue create “beautiful and elegant products”.
Jonathan says that the main focus of Solaris in terms of the architecture it runs on will continue to be primarily SPARC, accompanied by 32bit and 64bit x86. He invites the open source community to port Solaris to other architectures too, but he doesn’t see much commercial value in doing so. For example, he believes that the Itanium is not a durable architecture, while IBM’s Power5 is so proprietary that it doesn’t make it a good candidate for a port/business. Instead, he welcomes companies to use Solaris on purpose-built embedded system devices.
We asked about his thoughts on Red Hat re-implementing the Java platform from scratch and the implications that would have for Sun. He believes that there is no danger of Red Hat going very far within the Enterprise with this new project because of several reasons, including the fact that it would be a “tough sell” for established customers of the Java platform including Samsung, Nokia and Google. In fact, he fears that IBM is the one that would have the most trouble from the whole Red Hat-Java deal, because as they use Red Hat for their POWER projects, using a non-certified Java version could create potential runtime problems.
The obvious question, then, was why Sun doesn’t “Free up” their version of Java, and the answer is that Java is already “open,” but not under a more liberal license because Sun doesn’t want to open up the potential for a fork. The same fear is not present in the OpenSolaris situation because Solaris is more closely defined and controlled by Sun, while Java can be shaped by external forces easier, and so Sun doesn’t want to take that risk. With over 2 billion devices worldwide running Java Sun is 100% committed to ensuring that anything ‘stamped’ Java is compatible. Folks really depend on that assurance.
Sun does seem to have a beef with Red Hat; that much was obvious from our conversation. Jonathan believes that Red Hat’s ways in the business are not fully honest. He believes that Red Hat locks Enterprise customers in, just like Microsoft does, by steadily moving away from the LSB, by patching and forking code (including using a very non-standard Linux kernel) and so applications get certified or only work in the Red Hat codebase and no other Linux distro. Such an example is Oracle, where they do not support any Linux distro other than Red Hat-based ones. Jonathan believes that Red Hat, by differentiating the code so much, has created its own incompatible platform, and is therefore virtually pushing customers to continue use Red Hat instead of Debian or Gentoo or other.
We asked Jonathan about his opinion on patents and he summarized it thus: Patents are useful, but most of them are “silly” and unfairly approved (in the US). In its official position, Sun respects Intellectual Property, and as such they will offer indemnification to all new versions of Solaris.
Lastly, we asked Jonathan about his opinion on the future of Unix and he sees a “vibrant and dynamic” future for all “branches and leaves of the same tree”, including BSD and Linux (“which comes from the same swamp”) but most importantly –surprise, surprise– Solaris. He looks forward to a strong community build to help out with the development of this high-integrity, robust and promising platform.