Sun, Linux and Emergic

From InfoWorld comes a fascinating and revealing interview with Jonathan Schwartz, who heads Suns software business, Much of the focus of the interview is on Suns Linux strategy and its recently announced Linux desktops. Steve Gillmor then dissects Schwartzs comments. (Thanks to Rahul Dave for the pointer.)

Writes Gillmor summarising the opportunity and the solution: The dynamics: Microsoft’s Software Assurance program, the phaseout of Windows NT4, and the post-Sept. 11 economic and security landscape. The target market: call centers, cost-and security-sensitive environments, government agencies, and Third World nations. The deal: a free desktop software stack for the first 100 users. The platform: Linux.

I am beginning to understand Suns strategy [1 2] better. There are two elements in it. One, take away money going to Microsoft for the desktop software and redistribute it between itself (on the server side) and the customer. Two, make the money selling servers and storage.

Here is Suns (new) view of the world: Linux with open-source software on a secure desktop using JavaCard for authentication and the browser as the desktop (Schwartz makes the point that the PC is the only unauthenticated network access point), with Java on the server side, and applications glued together using web services. In short, no need to ever write to Windows (since there is J2ME for mobile/device applications). The server runs the portal, messaging, directory, identity management software that is Suns ONE platform.

Says Schwartz: “Linux is an operating system, it’s not a developer platform. Linux is a tactic. Java is the strategy. The developer platform that we’re encouraging is for line of business applications, content-based applications, distributed applications. Java is the architecture. It runs on the highest end carrier-grade servers and it runs on the military-grade, most secure smart card microprocessor platform on the planet…We will integrate Java Card into the J2SE platform. The one bug in the system right now is that for the most part, the Java platform and the Web content worlds have diverged. It’s incumbent upon us in a Web services way to cause them to converge.”

A key point Schwartz makes is that developers are not loyal to a single platform they are loyal to volumes. That is what Sun intends to give them through its Linux boxes.

Another interesting comment from Schwartz is on the three issues CIO want to hear answers for: “Save me money, increase my level of security, and please help me consolidate away all of this ridiculous complexity.”

Emergic Comparison

As it turns out, our ideas in Emergic are not very different. The Thin Client runs Linux, KDE (instead of Gnome), Evolution, OpenOffice (instead of StarOffice), Mozilla (or perhaps, a lighter browser based on Mozilla) and GAIM. The Thick Server does all the processing and storage. Down the line, we want to add business applications builtaround J2EE on Apache (web server), JBoss (application server) and PostgreSQL (database). There is one additional component which we have: the Digital Dashboard, to create a unified events processing centre, which can be especially useful for first-time users.

What Sun has in its model is the JavaCard, a smart card for security on the desktop. I like the idea perhaps we could accomplish the same via the floppy which is needed for the client to boot-up. (In todays world, floppies are a bad way to do anything, but they already exist in the old PCs while card readers would cost additional money).

Where we differ is in the business model: our aim is to make money off the software and leave the hardware to the channel partners. Sun wants to sell the desktop and server hardware, along with the software as a solution the way they have always done. Suns target audience is also quite different: they want to go primarily after the cost- and security-conscious entities in the worlds developed markets, while our focus is largely the worlds developing countries. Suns solution will be 70% cheaper than Microsoft (as per their claims). Our solution will be 70% cheaper than Sun.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.