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Sun's Fowler puts Gwana-gwana on hold for Software Express

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John Fowler, CTO of software at Sun Microsystems, has a unique quality among tech executives. When he enters a room, the Gwana-gwana level actually goes down.

Fowler is the type of executive that reporters love and PR specialists hate. This, of course, makes him a prized "briefing opportunity" at Vulture Central.

Fowler's job is to oversee Sun's software direction, but he is a hardware man at heart. As proof, he pulled out a slab of Sun's upcoming Gemini processors, during our interview. Fowler began pointing out processor cores and memory and described the nuances of light hitting silicon. For a systems company employee, it was a nice touch.

Fowler, however, is paid to talk about software and we quickly moved away from Gemini and onto Solaris.

Earlier this year, we brought you the exclusive on Solaris Express. This is a program that gives large Sun customers early access to upcoming features in the Solaris operating system.

This week Sun announced that it will extend the Solaris Express concept to its entire software portfolio, craftily calling the program Software Express. Sun believes that giving users a peek at its software will help customers plan their upgrades and get a handle on how new features work.

"You get this beta with a ton of new stuff," Fowler said. "People want more transparency and the ability to look at it early."

Even though it plans to put all of its code under in Software Express, Sun is starting with Solaris first. The company tends to do this announce first, release later thing.

That fault aside, the program looks interesting. Sun users can log in to the Software Express site and begin tooling with upcoming code. The users will be helping Sun out as well by reporting bugs and other issues.

At the moment, Sun is only offering the service to "key customers."

"The issue is not about keeping secrets, it's about how we support it," Fowler said.

Sun doesn't want a flood of customers seeing early versions of Solaris in a potentially bad light. The chosen few will understand the code is still in beta and not to be judged.

Over time, however, Fowler hopes that more and more of Sun's software will actually be delivered through this model. Customers will be able to test out various products and have a better sense of the directions in which Sun is heading.

Hopefully some of the "special" Sun customers out there will send along some feedback on how the Software Express program is chugging along.

After having enough of the software chit-chat, we tossed out a couple of phrases like "multicore processor" and "Level 3 cache," and Fowler was off and running in the hardware zone again.

In an industry so rife with dull, information obliterating spew machines, it's refreshing to run into a fellow like Fowler. He replaced the Gwana-gwana with common sense. ®

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