Sun COO Touts FOSS For Success

SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems says it is on the right track supporting the free and open source software (FOSS) movement.

During his keynote at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) here, company president and COO Jonathan Schwartz gave his best pitch to open source supporters, members of the business development community and venture capitalists on why Sun is a poster child for open source, open standards and open communities.

“Free and open source software is a vital part to the evolution of the network,” Schwartz said. “Openness propels growth and will enable the Participation Age. An open and competitive network fuels growing opportunities for everyone — not simply to draw data or shift work around the world, but to participate, to create value and independence. If the Information Age was passive, the Participation Age is active.”

The obstacles for wider adoption of OSS, according to Schwartz, are restrictions and fear, which for Sun translates into forces like Microsoft and Red Hat , as well as IP-related lawsuits like Sun’s $92 million payout to Kodak.

One way Schwartz said Sun is being supportive is by standing behind a very wide range of open source projects: Apache , BSD , NFS , OpenOffice, Project Looking Glass and the recently announced and now managed OpenSolaris project. However, Sun has had a hard time convincing the community as a whole that its intentions are pure.

Schwartz acknowledged having to fight a perception that Sun is “proprietary” software.

“We’d been criticized for our unwillingness to allow Java to fork, for continuing our investment in the open sourcing of Solaris, while our peers dumped their OS’s for Linux, and for resisting the position that software patents should be banned entirely,” Schwartz related. “And most of all, we’d been roundly criticized for suggesting open source was not and cannot be considered the equivalent of an open standard.”

He said the CEO of an open source software company once advised him, “Just lie. It’s what a bunch of us do to keep the slashdotters at bay.”

The COO said he was more motivated to stay the course with Sun’s current direction, even if it was immediately unpopular.

To that point, Schwartz recounted Sun’s decision to author its own license, the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), instead of using an existing one.

“First, because we felt the existing licenses had serious flaws. The Mozilla Public License, for example, restricts from the issuer any power to change the license and predetermines all disputes must be heard in Santa Clara, California (not good if you’re a Bolivian developer),” Schwartz said. “Alternatively, the GPL expressly limits choice by disallowing the inclusion of non-GPL code into GPL projects, and it exports a form of IP colonialism to nations seeking to create their own means of production. I believe in IP, but I do not believe in IP colonialism.”

Schwartz said true economic growth will come as people realize that the value is in the service, not in the product itself. He compared the cell phone industry’s practice of offering handheld devices for free with a subscription.

“Surely, it should be everyone’s common goal with free and open source software. It’s not about bringing the competition down, it’s about driving global participation up,” Schwartz said.

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