Monday, March 19, 2007

Sun should make a comeback this year

Jonathan Schwartz's elevation to CEO has been good for Sun so far, and I suspect it will prove to be even better in the days to come. In contrast to his predecessor Scott McNealy's on-again, off-again style (especially in relation to Open Source), Schwartz has brought a consistency and focus to Sun's actions. Finally, true to the words of a 1990s Sun ad, Sun once again has "all the wood behind one arrowhead."

The nature of the software industry is shifting, with Open Source gaining more legitimacy and services becoming the thing that customers pay for. Sun is moving to this model, too. In the process, they're beginning to give their competitors quite a few headaches.

You've read about Sun's Java and OpenSolaris plans. The latest news from Sun concerns their portal server. The portal space has been one where Open Source products have so far lagged behind their commercial rivals, mainly because of ease-of-use issues and imperfect integration with content management systems. It will take Open Source portals like Liferay and JBoss Portal more than a year to become "good enough". Sun has now weighed into this unequal battle, and will open-source their portal server. True, it hasn't happened yet, but the announcement has been made, and when the code is cleaned up, the product will be released. I'm hoping it will be under the GPL3.

Sun has a bit of housekeeping and tidying up to do before it can really boast of a full, consistent stack of Open Source products, but I'm confident it will get there.

On the client side, they really need to give a concerted push to get it over the line. has been at version 2.1 for ages now with no apparent progress. Its interface stills lags Microsoft Office and its performance and memory efficiency are features only a mother could love. No one but Sun can fix this, and they really need to do this quickly. There are many supporters of, but support could quickly evaporate unless the product performs.

On the server side, Sun should concentrate on two things:

1. Deprive their competitors of oxygen by providing full and credible stacks for most enterprise components, under a consistent licensing scheme (I'd recommend GPL3). That means GNU/OpenSolaris, Java, the GlassFish app server, Tango (the Microsoft-interoperable Web Services stack), Portal server and third-party Open Source software like Fedora Directory Server and Ingres. (My pet peeve: Forget the dalliance with PostgreSQL and get serious about a real database - Ingres. That's a GPL-ed product too, by the way.)

2. Build up a much stronger services arm or tie up with a dedicated services company (à la Accenture but with morals) and spend serious marketing dollars to get business.

Sun has a breathtaking opportunity to regain the initiative this year with bold moves that their competition cannot readily respond to. IBM, HP, Microsoft and Dell, all can be forced onto the back foot if Jonathan Schwartz plays his cards right.

Let me quote an old Irish blessing:
"May you always have work for your hands to do
May your pockets hold always a coin or two
May the Sun <grin> shine bright on your windowpane
May the rainbow be certain to follow each rain."
I'm waiting, and watching, and hoping.

Disclosure: I don't own Sun shares. I own SGI shares, and SGI has been delisted from the NYSE. Just my luck.


Roberto Galoppini said...

2. Build up a much stronger services arm or tie up with a dedicated services company (à la Accenture but with morals) and spend serious marketing dollars to get business.

I totally agree with you. Neverthless I spent some time describing a business model based on franchising that would suite Sun. People like Matt Asay , Frank Hecker and Matthew Aslett sound interested.

Ganesh Prasad said...

Oh, I see that SGI has been relisted on NASDAQ this time, under the symbol SGIC. However, my broker deleted my shareholding record when the stock got delisted. Now I have to apply to SGI or their registry Computershare to get back my shares.

There must be millions of shareholders like me, all clamouring for their share ownership to be re-registered. How can they do something thoughtless like this?