Former vp questions Sun’s open source strategy

Sun Microsystems‘ push to open source all of its software helped prompt one vice president, Larry Singer, to leave the company, Singer said at a conference in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon.

The company has been offering up to open source crown jewels such as its Java platform and the Solaris OS. Singer, who was vice president of Global Information Systems Strategy at Sun, stressed that he agreed with a lot of the open source efforts, such as open-sourcing Solaris and Java. But he said he thought the company was over-emphasizing open source when it should have been focusing on generating revenues; he disagreed with new CEO Jonathan Schwartz about the effort and this was one reason Singer left the company in March after having been at Sun since 2003. Singer cited this disagreement while serving on a panel at a conference entitled the “First Annual CIO Survival Guide for Web 2.0: What CIOs Need to Know about Making Web 2.0 Work in the Enterprise.”

Singer, who also has been CIO for the state of Georgia, also discussed the disagreement in a subsequent interview at the event.

“The hard part is we were spending all of our time and attention inside [Sun] on things that were important from an intellectual standpoint, important from an innovative standpoint [but it was] hard to understand how they were going to drive revenue for the company,” said Singer.

He added he understood that Sun could lure new customers into buying its systems by extending Solaris via open source. But the return on investment from this effort could take 10 to 12 years, he said. “There’s not going to be a company in 10, 12 years unless we get our revenues up in two years,” he said. The company needed to focus on differentiation in core products, including workstations, servers and storage devices, to satisfy the big companies that constitute its customer base, Singer said.

“The emphasis of the company was open-sourcing everything,” instead of focusing on revenues, said Singer.

But Sun in its fiscal quarter ending September 30 reported revenues of almost US$3.22 billion, an increase of about 1 percent from the same quarter a year earlier. Net income was $89 million compared to a net loss of $56 million for that quarter last year. But Schwartz only became CEO after Scott McNealy stepped down in April 2006, amidst grumblings about poor financial performance. The company since 2001 had either lost money or barely made a profit and its stock value was stagnant.

Sun declined Tuesday to respond to Singer’s comments. Currently a consultant, Singer said he will reveal his latest project in a couple weeks.

In other comments during the panel session, panelists serving or who had served in various technical positions noted the more decentralized bent of IT reflected in the new trends of Web 2.0 and its enterprise-level counterpart, Enterprise 2.0.

“What my view is that the Enterprise 2.0 is sort of a business acting like Web services. It’s acting like a community that mixes and matches,” said panelist Steve Douty, president of BSG On-Demand Applications.

Wal-Mart was cited for its openness. The department store chain considered its providers to be part of its network, said Singer.

“People began to be connected because of their affiliation with Wal-Mart,” he said.

Also, during an earlier keynote presentation, Mitchell Kertzman, a partner at Hummer Windblad Venture Partners and a former CEO of Sybase and PowerSoft, said SOA and Web services delivered on the promise of object-oriented computing.

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