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Sun Tosses Open-Source Challenge Back To IBM

CEO and chairman Scott McNealy says IBM has yet to match his company's intellectual-property contributions to the Java platform.

Sun Microsystems CEO and chairman Scott McNealy tried to stamp out a smoldering challenge from IBM that it convert the Java platform into an open-source code project by saying IBM had yet to match Sun's intellectual-property contributions.

It was almost as if making peace with one former nemesis, archenemy Microsoft, brought another one back. Sun and Microsoft agreed in April to settle Java licensing and patent disputes with a payment to Sun of $2 billion. The two also forged a 10-year technology agreement to ensure that Java and Microsoft.Net technologies work better together.

In February word leaked out that IBM VP of emerging technology Rod Smith had written to Rob Gingell, a Sun VP and head of the Java Community Process, urging Sun to make Java open source. IBM participates in the Java Community Process, which adds technologies and interfaces to the existing Java language. During Tuesday's a keynote address to several thousand Java developers, Sun tossed the challenge back to IBM.

"Stop writing letters to the No. 1 donor to open source communities," scolded McNealy. "We want IBM to start donating its own IP (intellectual property)," he added, noting the large number of patents the company holds.

In a question and answer session immediately afterward, he charged IBM with suffering from "Java envy."

"They wish they had invented it and they wish they had stewardship," McNealy said of IBM. "I feel for them, I've got mainframe envy."

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's president and chief operating officer who was sharing the Q&A stage with McNealy, jumped in to say, "We'd love to partner more effectively with IBM." McNealy went back on the offensive by noting that he has been advised by CIOs among Sun's customers that they either "don't care or they say, 'Don't do it.'" when asked whether Sun should make its Solaris operating system open source.

Some customers, such as Sun's Wall Street customers, would like Sun to make Java open source. "We're trying to figure all this out," he added.

In an unrelated move, Sun said it's offering 12 high-speed Advanced Micro Devices Opteron for sale with Java Studio Creator and other Java software bundled on it for one cent on eBay. The move was more than a publicity stunt for Sun's unannounced Opteron workstation line, said Sanjay Sarathy, director of marketing for Sun Developer Network, a developer resource and collaboration site.

By seeing what developers will pay for a fast workstation and bundled software, Sun is experimenting with a potential new distribution method. In some cases, such as pricing for its Java Enterprise Services package, a set of Sun infrastructure software that includes a Web server, directory server, application server and portal, among other things, Sun is moving to subscription-based pricing and putting together packages that appeal to particular developer communities, he said in an interview. Sun also offers Star Office, a suite of desktop productivity applications that competes with Microsoft Office on a subscription basis.

Sun officials say they have gained 170,000 to 180,000 subscribers for its $100 per employee per year subscription to Java Enterprise Services software--customers that are plowing $17 million to $18 million in revenue into Sun's coffers. Mark McClain, VP of software marketing, said Sun has been surprised that many of the subscribers are small or midsize companies with about 1,000 employees. The resulting $100,000 annual cost for software is palatable to them because the package is already integrated, saving them expenses in IT hiring, he said in an interview.

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