Sun unveils new software approach

Sun Microsystems has unveiled one of the most radical shifts ever in the company’s history, announcing a low-cost software initiative that is aimed directly at competitors in the Wintel space that have threatened the vendor’s future viability.

Included in the announcements are the introduction of the Java Enterprise System (formerly code-named Project Orion) and the Sun Java Desktop (formerly code-named Mad Hatter), which have been the subject of speculation for several months.

Rather than introducing individual software products as point releases, the vendor recently began tying in all product launches into a single event on a quarterly basis.

Product business manager for software at Sun Microsystems Australia, Laurie Wong, said this strategy was introduced to tie in with the way in which Sun intended to solve integration issues among its customers by releasing its ‘stack’ of software quarterly.

The problem with point releases, Wong said, was that customers would have to re-integrate their applications to suit any part of the stack that had been updated.

“Often CIO’s would tell us that we were turning them into chief integration officers instead of chief information officers,” Wong said.

To simplify this issue, Sun will now release all of its enterprise software quarterly in synch with updates to the most basic layer of its solutions, the Solaris operating system. So the latest versions of Sun’s directory server, application server, web server, portal server, calendar and messaging software would all be pre-tuned and tested to run on the latest version of Solaris, Wong said.

Together, this stack will be named the Sun Java Enterprise System and will originally be released for the Solaris x86 environment, but the vendor plans to also begin synchronising the software stack for the Red Hat Linux operating system within 12-18 months.

More importantly, the quarterly scheduling provides Sun with an opportunity to change its licensing. The vendor will start offering a three-year subscription service for the entire Sun Java Enterprise System suite, charged at $175 per employee per annum.

Wong said that charging per processor or per concurrent user causes too much confusion in the market and often leads to inadvertent breaches of licensing agreements.

“There are some labour intensive industries which do not benefit from the new [per employee] model, but we can adjust for that,” he said.

OEM and ISV licensing for the enterprise software would be determined within a month, Wong said.

Alongside licensing changes, Sun also announced changes to how it will approach the market with the software. In the US, the vendor has agreed to keep its hands off any customer with fewer than 1000 employees, customers that will be serviced purely by Sun channel partners.

However, Wong said Sun was yet to name a figure for the Australian market as it needed to evaluate “what makes sense for the market” here. Above the 1000 mark, Sun would either sell direct or collaborate with partners (Sun engagement, partner implementation), the same way it already approached the mid-market.

Alongside the enterprise software, Sun launched its solution to the monopolised desktop software market. The Sun Java Desktop (Mad Hatter), features the Mozilla browser, the Ximian Evolution e-mail client, Sun’s StarOffice productivity software, the Gnome 2.0 open source graphical user interface (GUI), and file and print infrastructure from Samba and CUPS. All of this software comes pre-integrated for the SuSE Linux operating system.

Wong said that building a Linux desktop environment was a “hair-tearing” exercise that involved a lot of integration. Not only does Mad Hatter come pre-integrated, but Sun has also completed some additional development work to ensure it feels familiar for those people (i.e. everybody) that uses legacy proprietary desktop software (i.e. Microsoft).

The standard edition of Mad Hatter will be released on October 24 and cost $190 per desktop, or $95 per desktop as an add-on for people that have subscribed to the Sun Java Enterprise Enterprise System. An enterprise edition of the desktop software is due out in May 2004. It will feature application provisioning and configuration/policy tools for enterprise roll-outs.

Wong said the price for this edition would only vary significantly from the standard edition if users required a connector to Microsoft Exchange for the Ximian email client.

“Our friends [at Microsoft] are not very friendly with that CAL pricing,” Wong said.

Other software vendors such as Macromedia, Adobe and RealNetworks had all indicated that they would release versions of their applications for the Mad Hatter desktop.

“There was quite a lot of friction when we released StarOffice into a hostile desktop environment,” Wong said. “Now there is a real, low-cost alternative on the desktop. It may not suit your power users, but is totally sufficient for the general body of workers.

Sun also released a range of new hardware products and software development tools during the quarterly update. More on these products will be discussed in this afternoon’s edition of ARN Daily.