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Sun is taking advantage of a NetBeans feature that phones home twice each month to record numbers of active users.

Jean Elliott, senior director for Java software product marketing, says Sun is not spying on users. The company merely wants an accurate measurement of the size of the NetBeans community and break the habit of open source vendors of citing downloads as proof of success. That's important for companies like Sun trying to make money from services targeting developers and users.

"We won't rat out John Doe, we are using an active user measurement," Elliott told Evans Data Corp's (EDC's) Developer Conference in Redwood City, California. "We got very obsessed at Sun with download rates."

We understand NetBeans has incorporated the phone home feature for some time and the feature is on by default. However, Elliott said, NetBeans users can opt out and also specify when NetBeans should call Sun. To date, the company claims 300,000 active NetBeans users, up from 72,000 in November 2004. In due course, Sun wants to extend data capture to cover deployments.

Sun has been pilloried for continuing with NetBeans in the face of the unstoppable rise of Eclipse. That means there's more than a little pride at stake and a desire to prove everyone wrong behind attempts to size the NetBeans community. So far, there are 64 NetBeans plug-ins versus 787 for Eclipse.

"We have long taken it on the chin, [been told] to: 'Get over it Sun.. Eclipse won'." However, [NetBeans] is important to Sun... we are in full-on evangelism mode," Elliott told conference delegates. "With NetBeans, we aren't going to lock anyone out but we would like to make it convenient for you do deploy on our software," she said.

Last year, chief executive Jonathan Schwartz highlighted Sun's tracking of systems running Solaris 10 that connect back to Sun's update service, Sun Connection. The so-called "pink dots" represent a Solaris market that Sun thinks it can leverage through sales of Sun products and services.

Schwartz last week told a Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco: "If your OS is in front of a customer, you're now given permission to sell everything you've got in your portfolio." Sun claims seven million downloads of its free Solaris 10. Solaris users can turn off their call home feature. ®

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