iTWire: The timeline you have for OpenSolaris is working out more or less?
SP: I'm close enough to the project that I can find plenty of things to be unhappy about.
iTWire: What are you unhappy about?
SP: They are all things that are of really no consequence if you're not looking at it with your nose up against the glass. In the big scheme of things, I'd say that OpenSolaris is going pretty much as well as I would have hoped it would go. The release that comes out in 2009-04 looks like it's going to be pretty well based with a good repository, with the earliest alpha of Sparc support in it; and its looking like it's heading towards being data centre ready by the end of the 2009-11 release. That's pretty much what everyone said ought to happen over a year ago. So we're pretty much on the right timeline.
iTWire: I'm asking all these questions because sometime back you had a system called JDS. There was an equally huge amount of enthusiasm around it. Suddenly this kind of disappeared...
SP: JDS became the GNOME desktop in OpenSolaris. So it didn't actually go away, but what did happen was that instead of the assumption being that we would have a Linux kernel underneath it, the assumption was that we would have a Solaris kernel.
iTWire: I know what happened to it but...
SP: I think that that reorientation worked, and at the moment, I'm looking at OpenSolaris feeling that as a community project, it's heading in the right sort of direction. In business terms, you'd need to talk to the business part of Sun, because that's not me.
iTWire: When I speak to people in the technology arena who have been there for some time, they say that no matter what you're selling right now, if it's proprietary you have to adapt. You have to go open source at least to some extent or you'll die. Do you agree?
SP: In the keynote that I gave this morning, I suggested that the emerging way of software entering a business is using what I called a adoption-led approach, where, instead of going through a long procurement process, software gets into the business by being prototyped and iterated, until you've got something that kind of works. Then what you go out and buy for things that are mission critical, is the wherewithal to take the thing that kind of works into production. That adoption-led market, where you adopt and then procure is what I think is going to replace what I call the procurement-driven approach, where you go through an RFP process and then a long scrutiny process before you put any bytes to disk, so to speak.
Now, in that world of an adoption-led market, I think that proprietary software can play. You can give away your code up to a point for people to adopt and take into production. I think, however, that the benefits that you get, in terms of diverse sources of service and support from open source, means that it will be very difficult for proprietary solutions to widely compete in about four to five years. In the interim period, there will be plenty of people who see IT as a cost centre, and see proprietary systems as the most predictable way to spend that money.
There'll be plenty of companies that see IT as a competitive weapon, and see open source as the smartest way to have a tuneable, scaleable competitive weapon for their business. I think both of those situations are going to be with us for a really long time. The ratios of how many companies are going to do each is going to change over the coming years. I would say to any proprietary software company that they need to look not so much at open source, as the changing reality of how software is going to get into businesses and be ready for it. The smart way, in my view, to respond to that, is to consider open sourcing your products. But the market is a diverse market that will take many solutions for many years to come.