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sun's new strategy

I spent some time yesterday watching the presentations and keynotes for Sun's NC Q3, which happened in sync with SunNetwork in San Francisco...

The highlights were McNealy's and Schwartz's keynotes, in which they finally presented the big picture of the strategy that Sun has been embarking on for the last year or so, bringing together all the stuff we've been hearing about for the last few months: Orion, N1, the MadHatter desktop, etc.

The strategy is, actually, simplicity itself (Here's coverage from Wired and eWeek. Essentially Sun is switching to offer a single integrated (sorry, "integratable" as they say, which means they're integrated but you can integrate your own stuff if you want) products, for servers, desktops, and developer environments, with flat annual subscription model for each, each comprising a different "Java System". $100 for the server stack per employee. $60 for the desktop per employee. And an additional $5 per employee for development environment (or a one-time $1895--I'm not terribly clear about these two options but anyway). That's it.

With that, you get everything, the software, training, migration, support, setup, and the ability to run this to any scale you want, no limits. That is, if you have 200 employees you pay $20,000 for all your server software needs per year and that lets you serve an infinite (well, theoretically at least) number of customers. Sounds good eh?

There's more. The license agreement for this thing is three pages. Yes. Three. Isn't that great?

It's not clear to me, however, what's the lower limit for the licenses, if there is one. Somehow I can't believe that you'd get all that for $100 per year per employee if you only have two employees, but who knows.

The other note of interest is that, of course, you have to run this somewhere so you'll need to get a ton of hardware. Guess from whom. Heh.

I wondered at times if this was all a clever ploy to sell more metal, but the strategy is reasonable, and it would set a good precedent for properly-priced, simple-licensed software subscription services. (Oh, and btw, why use employee count for licenses? Because it's one of the few measures of a company that doesn't require extensive audits to be determined).

They also announced that Sun would indemnify anyone using the Java Desktop System (Mad Hatter). This was an obvious reference to SCO's FUD, but it was unclear if it went beyond that (say, Star Office crashes and you lose a crucial document...)--I'd say it doesn't, and it only applies to litigation related to UNIX licensing. Again, who knows.

And for those who are skeptical that Microsoft might be too entrenched on the desktop, there's some anectodal evidence that the recent (okay, long-time) security problems of Windows at all levels might be beginning to make a dent. There's a story in Today's WSJ (subscription required) that talks about a number of companies that are considering switching out of a Microsoft environment on the basis of security problems alone. I'm sure that cost will also start playing into the picture, at least in part, with Sun's new offering.

This info was spread across both keynotes. Schwartz's presentation, aside from the details, went on to some demos (one of which bombed on stage). In the Mad Hatter demo, Schwartz showed the features of a standard desktop, using Mozilla, Start Office 7, etc. Nothing groundbreaking here, except that it was Star Office 7 (which is about to be released I guess...)

Much, much better than the Mad Hatter demo was a demo of a new user interface futuristic project titled Looking Glass. Now, it was totally unclear what relation, if any, this had with everything else that came before (Schwartz said that the project was open source, but after a bit of googling all I could find that was remotely concrete was this news item on it, about another demo given by Schwartz a month ago). This demo was a nice demonstration of 3D on windowed user interfaces, with perspectives, transparency (layers--you can put one window behind another and see through the first), etc. and see one through the other as though the window in front is translucent. To make space on the screen Schwartz rotated several windows back and forth along the Z axis (like opening and closing a door, performing 180 and 360 degree vertical rotations of the windows, etc. All of this while some of the windows where playing MPEG video --and the icons in the taskbar showed a minimized version of the icon. Yes, it sounds awfully familiar to OS X (except for the 3D). As I said, it was impressive but not clear at all what Looking Glass had to do with anything else.

Overall though, the strategy is reasonable and they don't even need to sell me on the idea of simplifying software and licensing. The idea of different Java Systems for different usage needs is also very cool.

The question is, will they pull it off? We'll know in a year or two.

Posted by diego on September 18 2003 at 10:09 AM

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