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The Engadget Mobile Interview: Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun

Ryan Block
May 2, 2008

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We recently got a chance to sit down with Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, who definitely ranks among the geekier and more sincere CEOs we've had the privilege to meet. We discussed the long-missing JavaFX Mobile platform Sun promised a while back, as well as Java on the iPhone, and doing battle with Microsoft as an open source software vendor. Read on!

Thanks so much for meeting with us.

Hey, you bet.

So I'm curious, what kind of phone do you carry?

As of yesterday, an iPhone.

Really? So you just got one?


Well I guess that's as good as any place to start with as any. What's up with porting Java to the iPhone?

It's still going on.

So you guys are still working on it?

Absolutely, why would we not?

Well, I dunno, I heard that there was some difficulties making that--

Well I think the only difficulty will be what Apple presents through its EULA. But I think that I think EULA is a bit of an oxymoron to me. They're end users, they have the freedom to choose what they'd like to do, so I think we are going to leave it up to users to decide how they want to use the technology. Certainly Google with Gmail, Yahoo with Yahoo Go, you know, there are just tens of thousands for applications are already built to the Java platform. If consumers want to run them on their devices of whatever their choosing its up to them.

So you haven't seen any real roadblocks in porting Java to the iPhone?

No technical roadblocks. There is certainly some challenges in Apple's SDK licensing agreement. But again, you know, it's a big market, there's lots of opportunity, so we'll see. Look, I tend to swap phones two times a month just because Java runs on so many of them. I'm always looking at the latest Nokia gadget, the latest Blackberry gadget, the latest Apple gadget. Apple did a beautiful job. It's a very nice phone.

In terms of Java on mobile platforms, a couple years back you guys picked up SavaJe and shortly thereafter announced the JavaFX Mobile platform, but we really haven't heard anything about that since...

Well I invite you to attend the JavaOne conference where we will be unveiling exactly what that looks like now. Because we have obviously made a huge amount of progress. And look, we are going to be delivering an open source phone. That doesn't happen overnight, but when it does happen I think it will fundamentally change the economics of the marketplace and create new opportunities for developers.

Right now we estimate we have about a 1.5 to 2 billion Java runtimes on phones out there so we are on the majority of all phones, certainly the huge majority of the new phones (Apple is probably the one exception). And that creates lots of opportunities for developers -- that's our core constituency and I think we can just continue to build innovations that they care about.

But what they ultimately care about, the one innovation that they all care about is volume. So the fact that they can run an app on a billion phones means that they have a billion times the market opportunity than if they just run on one that has four million devices.

So then, in a word you guys have not given up on Apple.

By no means. We have redoubled the focus and activity, but again, this is not simple stuff. It takes all companies a long time -- these are in many ways more complex than servers. As we build them we have to be pretty careful about user experience, power management, productivity, network connectivity, radios, modems, security, authentication -- all kinds of things that you aren't necessarily as focused on when you build a piece of network infrastructure that runs behind a firewall.

So how has Google entrance with Android into the market affected your plans and motions with JavaFX Mobile?

You should come to JavaOne -- not to be evasive -- but you'll see what we are doing with Google and I think if anything it's amplified the importance of Java, amplified the importance of having cross-platform portability, but I think most of all it's amplified the importance of innovation on devices. I was just with a reporter who was telling me about the free software he uses to do all his audio transcription and by definition the most important innovations in front of consumers and developers will be free.

And we think the same is going to be true for phones. It already is for many users of the world because they sign a bound two year contract whenever they get their device. But one of the significant, if not most significant cost element in a phone is how much the software platform costs. So if we can take that down to zero, that means instead of having three billion phones in the world maybe we can have five billion phones in the world. And that's exactly what we want to have happen because again as we make a phone platform more ubiquitous and more prolific, the bigger the infrastructure opportunity that arises behind it.

Is there any driving force or impetus for you guys to become a part of one of the Linux or open source mobile phone standards groups like LIPS, or OHA, or one of those?

You know, consortiums don't produce phones. Companies produce phones and companies produce products so we'll certainly -- look, the Java community by definition is a open source community. It's the world's largest open source community if you think about it in the sense that every day we distribute 15 million GPL software artifacts into the marketplace, called Java runtime environments. Every month we ship about fifty million GPL software artifacts. We are certainly going to work with the consortia that have volume and mass to make sure that we can identify standards.

Probably the most important for developers though isn't what are the driver APIs you use, it's going to be what are the developer APIs you use. What are the things that a developer who wants to deliver a service on a phone want to think about. The construction of the phone itself there is a much smaller group of companies. Most of which are frankly hardware companies and what we want to go do is to focus on the developer platform which gives them the broadest access to the broadest market.

So it sounds like from where you guys stand, obviously you are very enterprise focused--

Well, we're very developer focused.

But from the sound of things, it's really more that you guys believe in the democratization of mobile platforms whereas what we are seeing in the market -- especially in the consumer market -- is people becoming less concerned about access to cheaper open mobile platforms and even more concerned about a better end-to-end user experience. Do you think that these two interests can coexist?

First of all we are very focused on the democratization of network access. Now second and apart from that, I think that if you want to captivate a consumer audience you have to build an engaging user experience. A simple example for the consumers we really care about who are for example, MySQL users is the product must be freely available, downloadable, installable and up and running within fifteen minutes. Why? Because if it takes seven hours of configuration you are not going to get any users.

The same applies to a mobile platform which is: you'd would like to be able to get it turned on and get it up and running. And that's why companies like Blackberry, Nokia and Apple have done better than their counterparts who may not have been as easy to interact with. I think that the price of that product and the user experience of the product and the innovation of that product are not necessarily related in any way. But I can tell you that the intersection of all of those will produce the most popular products in the world.

By definition free is a more accessible price than six hundred dollars. A beautiful six hundred dollar phone will almost by definition ship in lower volume than a slightly uglier but functional text phone for no dollars. I think if you look at the proliferation of gadgets in the world, the proliferation of devices, the world is filled with way way more simple phones than they are WiFi enabled devices that allow you to look at maps.

So aside from the mobile platforms, where do you see your relationship with Microsoft going? Obviously you guys are very well integrated with the Linux community and now obviously the MySQL community, and there has been a lot of comments and accusations in the past couple of years from Sun, and especially coming from Linus Torvalds and the open source community about Microsoft patent trolling and stuff like that. Where do you see the future of that relationship? How do they relate with the rest of the industry, in your opinion?

They are both a competitor and a partner. They are a competitor in the sense that last month or so we registered our 100 millionth OpenOffice user and I think that's an extraordinary success, one of the most extraordinary successes the open source community has ever seen. I'm not sure that Microsoft likes the fact that OpenOffice is as successful as it is and that it is so effective in driving a discussion around open document formats, but and so we have no interest in encumbering competition and no interest in doing anything other than innovation and as you pointed out driving the democratization of access to the network.

Simultaneously as we deliver our virtualization platforms we need to be able to run Windows. Customers who want to run virtualized infrastructure want the ability to run Solaris and ZFS underneath Windows so they get all the advantages of ZFS without necessarily having to deal with Windows. And that is going to take place because we work with and interoperate with Microsoft, so they're a partner there. But all that said, we create intellectual property, we certainly patent that intellectual property, but we also are not an offensive litigator with that intellectual property. We use those patents to defend others. We have done so many things behind the scenes to undo patents that are used against the free software community -- just that we tend not to talk about it.

Unlike Microsoft and others, we actually view the success of the free software as a good thing, we are enormously pro-GPL, enormously pro free software, enormously pro the Mozilla license, the BSD license. Our view, is that we want to be known as the world's largest contributor and commercial supporter of free and open source software precisely for what you said, because it enables the democratization of the network -- that creates more opportunity for us. That's probably a political philosophy for which Microsoft does not subscribe -- but that's okay because its an open and competitive market and may the best technology ultimately win. But as I said before I think its going to be an intersection of price and user experience that defines success.

I had this interesting discussion with [Mozilla Chairman] Mitchell Baker a while back around the downloading of Firefox. She was talking about how imperative it was that they get the download to below five megabytes and I said, "That's interesting. What's with five megabytes? Why does it really matter?" And she said, "For us that's where we see a real knee in the curve of people willing to say, 'Yes' quickly and just get it, so we want to get it down to that." And I said, "That's interesting, because for us the OpenOffice download, which I think is now around 70 or 80 megabytes, we've seen no real cessation of demand or change as that has gone up or down." And she said "I don't save my users five hundred dollars."

And that was an interesting point, which is as the world moves to free they are maybe willing to maybe pay for free in the form of time or contributions or community and I think that is definitively a model we see flowering around the world. And that is a model we are going to drive very aggressively around Solaris and ZFS and MySQL, and Java and Glassfish and OpenOffice.

Thanks so much for your time!

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