Sun Mulls Release Of Java Enterprise System Code

Industry analysts and solution providers familiar with Sun's plans said the company might open-source at least part of the JES stack as early as the end of the year.
Continuing its open-source blitz, Sun Microsystems is considering plans to release some of the source code for its Java Enterprise System (JES).

Industry analysts and solution providers familiar with Sun's plans said the company might open-source at least part of the JES stack--which includes more than 10 individual Java software products--as early as the end of the year. However, details about which JES products will be open-sourced are sketchy.

Stephen Borcich, executive director of JES marketing at Sun, confirmed that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor may open-source JES but has made no "final decisions" on the matter.

Industry watchers said open-sourcing JES makes sense for Sun, which already unveiled plans to open-source Solaris, its popular Unix operating system. The vendor expects to release details of that project, tentatively called OpenSolaris, in the fall. At JavaOne in late June, Sun also donated Project Looking Glass, a next-generation 3D desktop application, and other technologies for building 3D Java applications to the open-source community.

Aside from Solaris, Sun has never had as much success selling software as it has with its traditional hardware strategy. That inspired the vendor in recent years to try and sell its Java software through creative pricing models, such as yearly subscriptions billed on a per-employee basis. The new pricing efforts were spearheaded by former Software Executive Vice President and current President and COO Jonathan Schwartz, who seems intent on continuing Sun's attempts to disrupt the software marketplace.

"When it comes to Sun and its software portfolio, there are no sacred cows," said James Governor, principal analyst with London-based think tank Red Monk. "Jonathan Schwartz has a big gun, and he's running around shooting sacred cows wherever possible. Sun has talked about open-sourcing Solaris. There are far more risk factors associated with that than with open-sourcing JES."

Marc Maselli, president of Back Bay Technologies, Needham, Mass., speculated that open-sourcing JES might be a ploy to "try to put out of business" software-only competitors--such as BEA Systems--that don't have a significant hardware business to back up their Java software portfolio.

While that may be the case, there probably isn't much reason for Java software leaders like BEA and IBM--which still sell most of their software through a costly per-CPU licensing model--to worry right now, Governor said. But the growing popularity of open-source software from players such as JBoss, which is building on its open-source application server by offering portal and other open-source infrastructure software, could change the scope of the market.

"I just don't think customers are going to be paying for software licenses in the future," Governor said. "That's a very radical position, but the value is in all the services and support and the other stuff around it."

Financial factors also might be behind Sun's decision to open-source JES, Back Bay's Maselli said. The software may not have taken off in the market the way Sun hoped, so open-sourcing some or all of the products could be more cost-effective than keeping the software proprietary, he said.

"Maybe a reason they're doing this is that the uptake to JES hasn't been to their liking," Maselli said. "Clearly, I think action is in order [because] another quarter of negative net income would not be good. I'm open to any approach that they have to take to become a more dominant force in the industry."

At JavaOne, Sun said it was approaching the 200,000-employee mark for JES, which means that, with the software priced at $100 per employee per year, the vendor may have sold about $20 million in JES subscriptions since the software became available last December. And that revenue will recur annually if customers renew their subscriptions.

Although it's unclear which JES components will be open-sourced, observers said Sun's J2EE application server would be a likely starting point. A basic version of the application server, while not open source, already is available free with the reference implementation of J2EE 1.4, the latest version of the standard for enterprise-scale Java applications.

Other open-source choices might be strategic. For example, Sun's identity management software is an important differentiator from other vendors' Java software portfolios. Yet Sun might choose to open-source such a value-added product to stir up interest in it, Red Monk's Governor said.

"It's like BEA open-sourcing the Beehive framework [to its WebLogic Workshop developer tool]," Governor said. "Sun might open-source pieces--not all of [JES]--to see what's going to get the most traction and what will be adopted."

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