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Q&A: Jonathan Schwartz, Sun Microsystems

As the open source faithful prepare to descend upon the LinuxWorld Conference in San Francisco the first week in August, Sun Microsystems is fine-tuning its own Linux message, and alliances.

Despite a concerted effort to expand its support for Linux across more of its product lines, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems vendor still finds itself on the defensive about its support for Linux in relation to its high-end Solaris operating system -- especially from Wall Street houses keen on installing Linux operating systems where Sun's systems currently reign.

During a meeting with technology reporters Monday, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president of software, updated the company's latest strategic embrace of open source while urging doubters to stay tuned for further news from the Linux front.

By Friday, Sun had rolled out news that SuSe Linux was now a Java source licensee. In the deal, SuSe has agreed to become a Java 2 Standard Edition source licensee and to distribute Sun's Java Virtual Machine (JVM). The alliance also calls for Sun to sell, ship and provide full customer support for SuSE Linux Enterprise Server 8 on Sun's x86 systems.

The news arrives as Sun prepares for a fall unveiling of its server side Project Orion software/hardware bundle of Solaris and Linux on a common Java runtime environment, and its Mad Hatter desktop bundle. In a wide-ranging discussion with reporters, Schwartz also managed to land a few jabs on the competition.

Following are excerpts from the Q&A.

About Sun and Software
Besides DVD players, there's only one industry that still divorces software from hardware: the PC Desktop. In the PC world, you buy hardware from Dell and software from Microsoft. It's not that we expect that to go away, it's just that we're a systems company and we look at that as a bug. It's not a feature. And so when we deliver a system, if you look at our highest-end systems, they do things you just can't do by assembling components on your own.

If you wanted to assemble those components on your own, you'd need about the 10,000 people we have designing high-speed interconnects and kernel bus optimization interfaces and all the things that go into making a system run well.

I'll leave you with the following thought, which I assure you we'll repeat in 2015. We open markets with software. We monetize them with systems. I'll give you a perfect example to answer the question about what's different in Europe between the US.

Java on cell phones. If you go to Europe, [you would see that] last year $1.6 billion dollars were spent on ring-tones, and $6 billion worldwide. About none was in the U.S. because Europe has figured out how to roll out infrastructure. We have done that in concert with most of the major forces in Europe.

So J2ME is something that Sun ships with Samsung, Motorola, Sony, Ericsson and Nokia. Everyone else in the world ships it. We all have the same implementation. The good news is there are now 150 million Java-enabled phones in the world. (corrects sentence to remove prior typo

[Java-phones] will out-ship PCs this year and guess what's hanging on to the back end of every one of those cell phones? A really big provisioning engine with a massive directory server running very high scale service provider class e-mail messaging, providing calendar and applications, running on a very large scale distributed infrastructure. That's our business. And by the way, we're agnostic with respect to cell phones.

About Sun's Approach to Linux
To me, operating systems are the single most valuable asset on the Internet. Period.

The reason why operating systems are so valuable are the same reasons a masthead in a newspaper is so valuable or the chassis of a vehicle is so valuable. It is the vehicle through which you distribute all your content. Absent an operating system you are left to your own devices to try to get your product out into the world.

On the server side, there are two schools of thought. One says Intel is going to be the future as far as we can see (a few years down the road). And then there are others like me that say Intel right now, on the low end, has done a good job of characterizing workloads. We're going to go after them in another couple of years with a very different view of the world.

Looking at the first view that says Intel is the future, how many operating systems run on Intel? There are only three. There's the one that Microsoft delivers. There's the one that Red Hat delivers -- because Linux right now is Red Hat. Red Hat has way more control than Linus [Torvalds, the creator of Linux] does.

If Red Hat tweaks their distribution just a little bit, does anyone care about what Linus says? ISVs qualify to Red Hat , not to Linus. So Red Hat is number two. And number three is Solaris [Sun's UNIX-based operating system].

For the longest time when we were delivering Solaris on Intel, people were saying to us, 'What are you doing that for? That's Microsoft's domain.' Well thank god we were doing that because the industry's really changed for us, and now we've got a full stack lined up. That allows us to go after some pretty interesting opportunities.