Sun bets on free Java tool

Developers won't pay a penny for the next version of Java application server, set for release next week, says the company's top software executive in a presentation of Sun's software plans.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
4 min read
Sun Microsystems plans to release a free version of its Java application server next week, a move designed to encourage more developers to build programs on the software foundation.

Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Sun's software unit, told reporters Thursday that the company is ready to deliver Java System Application Server 8, the first server software to comply with version 1.4 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE). That compatibility with the update of Sun's Java software is meant to make it easier for developers to create applications that work with Web services standards.

Sun's application server is used for running custom-written Java applications. The company gives away the "platform" edition of its software and levies an extra charge for versions with add-on features that promise easier administration and greater reliability of the software.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company's plan to make its application server freely downloadable without charge is an acknowledgement that basic Java server software is reaching commodity status, in which products are differentiated only by price, Schwartz said.

"For the most part, J2EE application servers are a common commodity, thus JBoss," Schwartz said, referring to an open-source Java application server. "The objective in doing this (pricing change) is to get the broadest developer base possible."

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Developers are welcome to develop Java applications with the application server and put them to work free of charge, he said.

The pricing change is being introduced alongside a switch in how Sun releases a "reference implementation" of J2EE code, which helps Java licensees to test whether their applications comply with the software. Unlike past releases, Java System Application Server 8 is being launched as both the reference implementation and a ready-to-go product, Schwartz said.

Sun executives provided more details on other software initiatives, some of which have been met with skepticism from industry and financial analysts. In general, the company is betting on offering lower-cost and more-secure alternatives to Microsoft's products, executives said.

North American corporate customers have been "most reticent to consider alternatives to Microsoft," despite the potential cost savings of going with Sun-backed open-source desktop software, Schwartz said.

Sun said Thursday that it plans to release the Java Desktop System, a suite of software based on open-source code, at a company conference in Berlin beginning Dec. 3. The package includes an operating system and productivity applications. National governments and nonprofit organizations, which are more sensitive to price, are the target market.

"We have pricing on our side. We are the low-cost provider on the desktop," Schwartz said. "We can have a big impact on the digital divide."

In September, Sun announced the Java Desktop System's price of $100 per employee per year for companies buying the software, and said the software would be ready in November. Sun's Java Enterprise System server software bundle also costs $100 per employee per year, or corporate customers can pay $150 for both server and desktop software.

To attract government customers, Sun is considering a "per-citizen" pricing mechanism, Schwartz told reporters, noting that the company is still trying to sort out the details of this plan.

In Sun's core server business, the company is bulking up the security of its Solaris operating system, executives said. Solaris 10--the next edition of the Unix operating system, due in the middle of next year--will improve security by eliminating the concept of giving one or several administrators "root" access to take over a server, Schwartz said. "No one person will have access to everything. Every privilege and access will have to be assigned," in Solaris 10, he said.

Separate administrators can each be lords of their own domain in Solaris 10, through the ability to run several instances of the operating system on a single server. The technology, called "Zones," will allow companies to consolidate many applications on a single machine and so boost overall server utilization, Schwartz said.

Commenting on Sun's investment in emerging software markets, Schwartz said that the company is already seeing a profit in its Java card and Java software for mobile phone businesses. The open-source desktop business will be profitable next month, he predicted.

In addition, Schwartz noted that Sun has signed on 100 customers for initial versions of its N1 software for automating data center tasks.

"It's not clear to Wall Street how we monetize Java," Schwartz said. "(But we) are embracing and monetizing Java in ways that we haven't historically."

CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.