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Year zero for Sun's recovery . . . again

Goodbye software, goodbye revenue

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Analysis Open source and subscription-based pricing are taxing the best brains of software providers. Sun Microsystems became the latest to grapple with the issues this week, announcing it would no longer charge for its software.

Lucky developers can now download Sun's Java Enterprise System (JES) middleware stack, N1 grid engine and management software, C, C++ and Fortran tools and the SeeBeyond development and integration suite for free. Just don't expect to get any services or support, 'cos that's gonna cost you.

Sun's chief operating officer and prez Jonathan Schwartz validated the decision by citing JBoss and MySQL as examples of where the software market is headed.

JBoss's chief executive Marc Fleury returned the compliment, telling The Register Schwartz had made a "ballsy, bold and visionary" move that endorses services. Or was Fleury damning with faint praise?

Sun's business - and its software business in particular - has been on the comeback trail for years. After being treated as the illegitimate child of the product family, software has enjoyed a renaissance under Schwartz.

Sharing? How about "Revenue" as the new slogan

After three years - approximately the length of time Sun has been talking about subscription pricing and open sourcing its software to create a volume market among developers - you'd expect the green shoots of recovery to start popping up. And they are, only Sun is hell bent on ripping them up and planting new seeds.

Sun has had a tough fight convincing both skeptical Wall St analysts eager for profits and customers married to traditional notions of paying for software about the merits of per-user pricing on its JES and Java Desktop System (JDS). Proof was emerging that this market-changing business model was getting traction, with Sun having built a fledgling $100m revenue stream founded on JES.

Sun, though, is denting these hard-earned gains by forcing customers to reevaluate another new pricing model. In addition, Sun is throwing out $167m in annual revenue that it inherited this summer with the $387m SeeBeyond Technologies acquisition. We're willing to be that Sun will "change the software game" at least three or four more times before it has $387m in software services revenue to make up for the SeeBeyond buy..

The SeeBeyond aspect, in particular, points to a strategy that owes more to Sun's ideology of "sharing" than business sense.

Application tools vendors like IBM/Rational and Borland are taking pragmatic approaches to turning open source to their advantage. Invariably they are "giving away" or "opening" the basic, commodity features in their tools suites while holding back the real meat, or value-add features, that they - correctly - figure they can charge for.

Sun, though, is going balls out by giving it all away.

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