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Sun continues great software giveway

Free, as in you pay for services

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Sun Microsystems is giving away more software in another stab at building a "volume" business based on commanding market share among developers.

Software developers can now download unsupported copies of Sun's Java Enterprise System (JES), SeeBeyond integration suite, C, C++ and Fortran tools, and N1 grid engine and systems management software, which are also being integrated with Solaris to create the Solaris Enterprise System (SES).

Sun is sacrificing revenue from both licensing of products like SeeBeyond and more than $100m in subscriptions derived from JES for income from services.

Sun believes it can offset this with revenue from a raft of planned services, which will be charged on a per-user and per-hourly basis. Sun, though, was vague about what services it would offer - hinting some are already available internally while others could cover indemnification, warranty and bug fixes.

Additionally, Sun re-committed itself to open sourcing its entire software portfolio - a pledge it has been making for more than a year and slowly delivering. Sun believes it can build a volume market among developers for its software tools and runtimes, which it can then monetize at a later stage. This strategy, however, has not realized much success with Sun's past efforts to give away its application server and other pieces of middleware.

Among software to be open sourced will SeeBeyond's Integrated Composite Applications Network (ICAN), bought by Sun this summer. Sun, though, said it has yet to work thorough the licensing details, and refused to put a date on its release.

Sun's chief operating officer and president Jonathan Schwartz claimed Sun's decision to eliminate the initial purchase price would help change the market for services by appealing to developers who traditionally lack purchasing power. By charging for services, Sun hopes to woo users who run its software in mission-critical environments and want a support contract with their software.

"Free certainly lowers the barrier to entry for acquiring a product. Free has been combined with open source, with Linux and Solaris to transform the economics of the market place and technology landscape," Schwartz said.

Focusing on Sun's news, Schwartz said: "Developers don't buy things, they join things... first and foremost we want to build developer volume, then we convert that volume into datacenter customers who won't run free products without support."

Sun has been wrestling with licensing and the concept of "volume" markets for years. While many inside Sun will feel Wednesday's news contributes to its strategy of "sharing", the reality is Sun is still looking for effective, long-term ways to grow software licensing and increase its share of the tools and middleware markets. In short, "sharing" has done little to boost revenue.

[Isn't it odd that a for-profit company code-named this software giveaway Red October? Is this Russia? This isn't Russia, Danny - Ed.]

Sun's move to subscription-based pricing with JES was considered an innovative move, and Sun has made slow but steady progress in convincing customers to switch. Sun has signed up a number of customers to JES, who it charged $140 per employee per year. Less than two years into subscriptions, though, Sun is changing the game plan and dedicating itself to services.

The decision to "give away" its entire software portfolio to grow market share is also predicated on rather weak foundations. Sun made its Java application server free two years ago in a move that has yet to translate into a volume market for Sun. ®

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