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Ex-Sun exec returns to run software group

Rich Green, who left for a start-up in 2004, is expected to be named Sun's software chief, CNET News.com has learned.

Sun Microsystems hired a new software chief on Monday, CNET News.com has learned: Rich Green, the latest in a series of former executives the company has lured back.
Rich Green Rich Green

The server and software company plans to announce the move on the same day Sun is holding a quarterly product announcement in Washington, D.C., sources familiar with the executive appointment said. Sun and Cassatt confirmed the move.

Green originally started at Sun in 1989 but left in 2004 to become executive vice president of product development at Cassatt, a start-up focusing on managing large groups of servers. He had been leading Java work at Sun as vice president of programming tools.

"It was too compelling to stay away," Green said in an interview Monday, arguing that Sun's open-source software work is making it relevant again. Software is a key part of the company's effort to return to sustained profitability and revenue growth, and its new chief executive, Jonathan Schwartz, rose through the software ranks.

At Sun, Green will choose a small set of focused priorities for the software group's "very large portfolio," Green said. "There are opportunities to say, 'Here are the two or three or four key market initiatives that Sun is going to pursue now and in the next few years.'"

Sun's last executive vice president was John Loiacono, who left Sun for Adobe Systems in March. Newly named Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz, who held the software chief post from 2002 to 2004, had been acting software executive vice president.

During his tenure at Sun, Green was instrumental in ending a long-running dispute with Microsoft, hammering out a $1.95 billion payment to Sun to settle an antitrust lawsuit and license patents. Now at Sun, he'll oversee a massive attempt to make Sun's software relevant and profitable by making it free and open-source.

Green is one of several returning executives who Sun Chairman Scott McNealy likes to highlight as the company tries to argue that it has its dot-com mojo back.

"We've got them coming back in droves--Andy Bechtolsheim and Mike Lehman and Peter Ulander and Karen Tegan," McNealy said in an interview last week. "There's a boomerang hitting my door, it seems, every five e-mails these days."

But at least one Java executive won't be returning to Sun: Rob Gingell, who also left for Cassatt in 2004 and who will replace Green, said Steve Wilson, Cassatt's vice president of product marketing. Gingell was instrumental in building the Java Community Process by which the software technology is jointly governed by Sun and a host of other interested companies.

"We wish Rich nothing but the best," Wilson said. "With all the changes at Sun management, he's got a big opportunity to influence change at one of the biggest companies in the world."

Sun has held out against making Java open-source software, though it has pledged to share everything else, and Java isn't as proprietary as some software. Green declined to comment on the open-source issue.

In the years he has been away, though, the open-source Java issue hasn't gone away. In 2005, the Apache Software Foundation announced Project Harmony, an attempt to make an open-source version of the core Java software. IBM, a major Java ally, joined Project Harmony months later.

There are some opportunity costs to keeping Java proprietary, argues Chris Blizzard, manager of Red Hat's desktop group. Among other things, it led to Mono, an open-source version of Microsoft's .Net software, making its way into Linux; to a variety of sometimes incompatible virtual machine software to run Java programs; and the emergence of the open-source LAMP software collection widely used on servers powering Internet sites.