Schwartz outlined four technology markets where he believes Sun can grow the fastest.
Corporate operating systems that need large data centers to operate database-driven websites will continue to be a driver, according to Schwartz. Sun’s Solaris operating system has been holding its own in this arena against Microsoft Windows and Red Hat Linux, and Schwartz believes that the company’s decision last year to make the code behind Solaris open source – like Linux – will attract a large community of software developers who will write more programs that run on Solaris or make Solaris servers more efficient. Already, developers have downloaded five million copies of open-source version of Solaris – ten times more than the company expected, Schwartz said.
Java, the mini-operating system, or “runtime environment,” that Sun has been adapting lately for use on mobile devices such as cell phones, will also continue to receive attention. A growing number of new cell phones carry Java, which allows users to run powerful software, such as video players and GPS navigation programs. Many of these applications interact with servers on the Internet, and work especially well with Sun servers running Solaris, creating a package of networking technologies that Sun can sell together. “Whether it’s handsets or Internet-protocol TV or automobile dashboards or ATM machines, there is a new world of network clients emerging, all of whom are delivering very strong demand for network infrastructure,” Schwartz says.
Privacy and the concept of “network identity” – a single technological standard for sharing and protecting Internet users’ personal information – are also crucial components of Schwartz’s vision. Through the Liberty Alliance, an industry consortium, Sun, Nokia, IBM, and other companies are working on specifications that would, for example, allow cell-phone users to authenticate their identities and transmit secure credit-card information when making Internet purchases using a cell phone. Regulations requiring such control over data, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, will increase demand for Liberty-compliant operating systems, servers, storage platforms, and software development tools, according to Schwartz.
Finally, the new CEO underscored his interest in utility computing, which he sees as the Internet-age equivalent of the electrical grid. “Our belief is that all [Internet] technology is ultimately becoming a service,” says Schwartz. The company has launched the Sun Grid, a vast supercomputer comprised of hundreds of individual Sun Fire servers running Solaris. “For a buck per CPU-hour, [the Sun Grid] allows you – whether you’re modeling a protein or rendering a movie or doing a financial simulation – to purchase computing as a service rather than having to build out your own infrastructure,” he says.
That broad-stroke outline may help to sharpen the public’s image of Sun, which has lacked a clear identity. Microsoft has Windows and Office, IBM has database, server technology, and consulting, and Google and Yahoo have search and personal information services. Sun has a single slogan: “the network is the computer.” But that hasn’t led customers, investors, or journalists to see how the company’s products work together to achieve a distinctive take on information technology.
Schwartz will likely not be as quotable a helmsman as McNealy, but he has a reasoned plan, which may ultimately be as productive. “I’m a lot more verbose – that’s why I write a blog,” he says. “Where Scott has a one-liner, it takes me seven screenfuls to get to the same conclusion.” And now more people will probably be reading him.