PACKET RAT: Sun’s swing toward open-source knocks the Rat for a loop

The house was full at the Reagan Federal Building auditorium for Sun Microsystems’ quarterly “Network Computing” road show—which is what happens every time someone mentions a free lunch in Washington. But the Rat still managed to secure prime seating for the event, though that turned to his disadvantage when Scott McNealy took the stage.

McNealy, CEO of Sun, sporting a Washington Nationals shirt, produced a bat and foam rubber balls. The balls represented 100 free CPU-hours on Sun’s grid computing service. He started hitting them into the audience with gusto.

One line drive ricocheted right off Sun software executive VP John Loiacono’s forehead, grazing the cyberrodent’s snout. His survival reflexes being somewhat stronger than his baseball skills, the Rat dove for cover.

McNealy then made his second life-threatening move of the night: He invoked the name of Al Gore. “Since I’m in Washington, it only seems appropriate to speak a Gore-ism,” he said. “We invented community (development).” What he meant was that Sun and Bill Joy, Sun co-founder and creator of BSD Unix, had contributed more to open-source and community-developed software than anyone else.

“I guess that depends on what the meaning of invented is,” the Rat sighed, pulling out yet another notorious Clinton era quote for paraphrasing.

Sun is promising that Solaris will be completely open-sourced before the end of June, so the company is certainly coughing up a significant portion of its intellectual property to the open-source world. Though some would argue about the open-source orthodoxy of Sun’s Common Development and Distribution License, it did get the blessing of the Open Software Institute. And Sun chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz promised a while back to open-source all of Sun’s software.

All of which had left the Rat wondering how, exactly, Sun expects to make any money.

The answer appeared as McNealy, Loiacono and others laid out some of Sun’s new offerings. The company plans to make it up on services, like everyone else. It’s just that Sun is going to cookie-cutter the services rather than have armies of consultants descend on customers and tailor the services to them. “You can have any color, as long as it’s black,” McNealy said. “Or rather, Sun Purple.”

The whiskered one appreciated Mr. McNealy’s concept of standardized IT. But he wondered if Washington was the right place to be preaching that message, considering how most of Sun’s federal customers like to rewire everything to match their particular definition of what a standard is.

And as McNealy revealed Sun’s first building block of network services—Sun Connection, a patch and configuration management “OnStar for servers”—he admitted that many government customers might not be wild about having Sun collecting telemetry on their servers to suggest patches.

But they might want to keep eye patches handy if they attend another McNealy sporting demonstration. “Thank God he didn’t use golf balls,” the wounded wirebiter said as he headed to pick up his perfectly-acceptable-by-government-regulations gift.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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