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Sun makes case for open-source schooling

Push for online curriculum materials isn't just feel-good work; it's directly tied to Sun's bottom line, company says.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Chief Executive Scott McNealy on Tuesday urged participation in a shared effort to create freely available online educational materials for schools.

The effort, called the Global Education and Learning Community (GELC), produces curriculum materials such as online books for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. McNealy envisions the replacement of expensive and quickly out-of-date textbooks by shared online instructional materials, testing, grading and assessment tools, all created by experts.

"This is all about open-sourcing K-12 educational materials. Imagine you have process where we can get the best educators to create the world's best third-grade math textbook and make it free," McNealy said at the JavaOne trade show here. "Help contribute your time, your energy, your focus and maybe even your money."

Sun, suffering from flat revenues and break-even profitability, is trying to recover some of the relevance and prominence it had in the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. Part of that effort is seemingly altruistic work such as boosting the GELC and helping to bring computing and communication technology to the have-nots on the lesser side of the digital divide.

However, it's not just feel-good work, but directly tied to the Sun's bottom line, Sun President Jonathan Schwartz argued in an interview on Tuesday. "The more people are on the network," he said, "the more demand there is for network infrastructure," which is Sun's primary business. "What's good for the world is good for our business."

The argument has some merit, said IDC analyst Jean Bozman. "A lot of the countries that are growing most rapidly are those that have to build infrastructure," she said, pointing to Brazil, China, India, Russia, and several countries in Asia.

The GELC project is a broader sequel to the Java Education and Learning Community, which was focused just on creating educational materials for Java programming.

Whenever Sun executives tout the company's ability to unite interested parties behind a particular initiative, one of the first examples it touts is the Java Community Process, the 912-member organization that governs the future direction of Java.

McNealy said GELC initiatives could be modeled on those used by the JCP, in which members submit proposals for new directions, vote on them and then develop them collectively.