Sun Microsystems is planning a number of announcements in coming weeks to redouble efforts to use aggressive pricing and technological innovation to win customers from competitors. But it is downplaying rumours about talks with IBM to create an open-source version of Sun's Java technology.
In a meeting this week in Boston, company executives said that technological innovations, such as a tool for converting macros from Microsoft Office to its Star Office suite and an upcoming version of its Java Enterprise System software that runs on Red Hat's version of the Linux operating system, will increase Sun's market share, especially outside the US and Europe.
The company continues to have "great conversations" with IBM, but has not met with IBM in the last week to discuss that company's suggestion that Sun turn Java into an open-source technology, said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun.
In February, Rod Smith, IBM's vice president for emerging technologies, submitted an open letter to Sun asking the company to turn Java into an open-standards technology and offering IBM resources and code for an open-source Java implementation.
Speaking on Tuesday, Schwartz reiterated his company's claims that developers can already access Java source code using existing licensing and that turning Java into an open-source technology, as with the Linux operating system, would encourage the development of different Java flavours that would hurt compatibility between Java-based devices.
"There's a different dynamic in the Java world. Compatibility is the supreme priority. You have to be able to write to one (Java-based) phone, or server, or desktop and have (your code) run on all of them," he said.
In a free-ranging discussion with journalists, Schwartz and other executives said that Sun's software is stirring interest in the technology community, especially outside of North America, where organizations are fed up with expensive licensing agreements from competitors such as Microsoft Corp., IBM and Red Hat.
Schwartz predicted the appearance of a "big community" of users of its Solaris operating system, citing that operating system's availability on a wide variety of hardware platforms and N1 Grid Containers virtualization features that allow companies to make more efficient use of computing resources on Solaris than on Windows or Red Hat Linux.
Sun is also encouraged by interest in the Java Enterprise System (JES) software it released in December 2003, according to Steve Borcich, executive director of Java Enterprise Systems and Security at Sun.
Sun's JES is a package of server software including Sun's application server, directory server, portal server and other products. Adoption should increase even more when Sun releases a version of JES that runs on Red Hat in May and versions for Windows HP-UX by the end of the year, he said.
Between 130,000 and 140,000 people have adopted JES since December and Sun's decision to offer it free to companies with fewer than 100 employees has already increased adoption considerably, especially in less-developed countries such as China, where interest in Linux is driving an interest in Java development and applications, Borcich and Schwartz said.
On the desktop front, Sun is planning to unveil a tool that will convert macros from Microsoft Office to use with its StarOffice productivity suite, part of the Java Desktop System (JDS), Schwartz said.
Released in December 2003, JDS is a suite of products including a version of Linux, the Mozilla Web browser, Sun's StarOffice productivity suite and several other products. Sun is offering JDS to companies for US$100 per employee, or $50 for customers who also buy the Enterprise System. By comparison, the estimated retail price for Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003, without Windows, is $499.
The macro conversion tool and Sun's aggressive licensing strategy are part of a long-term plan to encourage Microsoft Office users to switch to the StarOffice platform and to increase the number of developers working on applications for Sun's desktop platform. Sun is hoping to "intercept" a new population of computer users by getting StarOffice and JDS introduced in schools and government agencies, especially outside the U.S., he said.
However, the company has dim hopes of unseating Microsoft Office in North America and other markets where computer users can afford to pay for Microsoft's products.
"Those people are immovable. It's a lost generation," Schwartz said.
Sun also hopes to increase the number of Sun developers worldwide from 3 million to 10 million in coming years, largely by developing tools for the masses of low-level developers working in environments such as Microsoft's Visual Studio, he said.
The company is also considering an RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed for Sun developers to provide them with convenient information on the company's technology and to foster a sense of community, he said.
Schwartz also took a swipe at The SCO Group Inc. and reiterated his company's commitment to using technological innovation to drive it out of a prolonged slump, saying that Sun would focus its energies there, rather than on "winning lawsuits."
"The way you work your way out from under the storm clouds is innovation. You've gotta build better products that offer better value," he said.