Sun reports strong Q4 profits, but when will revenue follow?

Sun is improving its bottom line, but not yet its top line. To feel comfortable that open source is helping the company, we need to see sales growth.

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay

Sun Microsystems continues its resurrection with an excellent Q4 2007 earnings report Monday. Yes, it seems that you can make grundles of money by giving things away. Like software. Lots of it. However it's not yet clear that Sun is making new money through open source, or simply finding new ways to save money.

Sun posted an 8.5 percent operating margin in its fourth quarter, more than double what the company had been projecting (4 percent). No wonder Jonathan Schwartz is crowing ("[W]e improved Sun's profitability by over a billion dollars").

Not everything is rosy, of course.

For example, Sun's revenue was nearly flat, with revenue from products actually down 1 percent (services revenue was up 3 percent). In addition, some argue that Sun's profit boost comes from a decline in chip prices, and not necessarily other cost-cutting measures.

Still, revenue for the year was up 6.2 percent to $13.87 billion. And, importantly, Sun's trajectory is positive, even if it's only anticipating a low-to-mid single-digit revenue increase in FY 2008. What could have been passed off as a blip, as a palliative measure to hide Sun's disease, really seems like a true resurgence. And yes, open source software is at the heart of Sun's improved financial performance.

Imagine that.