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Sun sets up open-source office

Company is "heading in the direction where all its software is going to be based on open source," an exec says.

Sun Microsystems on Wednesday night launched an office dedicated to open-source matters, signaling a new elevation of the collaborative programming philosophy within the server and software company.

Simon Phipps, already Sun's open-source officer, will lead the Open Source Office and report to , software chief technology officer. In an interview Thursday, Phipps said the move formalizes a role he's had in coordinating Sun's open-source efforts and communicating with outsiders regarding open-source software.

"Sun is now heading in the direction where all its software is going to be based on open source. It's become more important than ever to have coordination to promote best practices and ensure consistency in the way Sun behaves with open-source communities," Phipps said.

Phipps won't control open-source projects themselves, he was quick to emphasize. It's better to let open-source projects set their own goals, he said. Sun needs open-source coordination, but "not a great big bureaucracy to stand in the way of what people need to do," he said.

Embracing open-source software has been one strategy Sun has used in an effort to recover the influence and profits it enjoyed in the technology spending spree of the late 1990s. It has been participating in open-source efforts for years, but more recently, it has been sharing its most cherished projects.

In June, Sun began releasing its Solaris version of the Unix operating system as open-source software in a project called OpenSolaris. That same month, it released Java server software in a project called Glassfish, though the core Java software itself remains proprietary.

If successful, Sun could put pressure on rivals such as IBM, Red Hat, Microsoft and BEA Systems while triggering broader adoption of Sun's own software components.

Among Phipps' jobs will be to oversee the Open Source Council, an internal group of open-source project leaders at Sun that meets roughly quarterly; coordinate Sun's relationships with various open-source projects outside Sun; and lead Sun's Open Source Review Board, a group of executive vice presidents who occasionally make high-level decisions regarding open-source software at Sun.

In addition, Phipps will serve as ombudsman for handling outsiders' grievances in the open-source realm. "If you think Sun is doing something that is clueless, you can e-mail ombudsman@sun.com and have an impartial individual look at your complaint or comment and, where possible, act on it," Phipps said.