Co-Evolving with Developers: A Conversation with Jonathan Schwartz

   
   

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Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president, Software, Sun Microsystems, Inc., has been in charge of articulating Sun's software strategy since mid-2002, when he took on the role of leading all of Sun's software groups in a single, newly formed organization with 5,000 employees. He brings his extraordinary command of technical and business issues to countless customer interactions, which leads him to search for new ways to improve Sun's software products.

 

He will be giving a general session keynote address at the 2003 JavaOne Conference that focuses on Java technology, which is employed in many surprising places, including NASA's Mars Rover, Taiwan's and Brazil's national health service cards, and the Matrix Online. In addition, he will discuss Sun's directions in mobility and in the enterprise.

Schwartz has always been developer-focused and has made developer relations one of his three key initiatives for Software over the last year. We caught up with him to discuss how Sun is easing the way for developers.

"When all of Sun's software groups were brought together last year, our opportunities to connect with developers grew."

- Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president, Software, Sun Microsystems, Inc.

For the first time in ten years, all of Sun's software groups were brought together and report to you. What might this mean for developers?

We are now all united by a commitment to co-evolve with developers -- to engage in ongoing conversations that are broad and deep, and to apply what we learn to everything we do, from R&D, through product design and development, to support and programs.

Positive results from this unification already have accrued. I don't take credit for this -- there are nearly 5,000 dedicated people at work in Sun Software. Recent announcements -- for example, our new desktop offerings, support of the wireless ecosystem, Project Orion -- are all outcomes of our focus on software and developers; all of Sun's software products and support will be released on a quarterly basis, in synch and fully interoperable. Actually, the entire Orion Project is the creation of, and made possible by, a single software organization at Sun.

So, the Sun Software organization has already made great advances, and I think there are many more to come.

You've packed a lot of detail into that answer. Let's unpack it a bit, starting with Project Orion, which, from your description, really piqued my interest. Can you say more about that?

"Project Orion" is a revolution that is leading the industry in the way software is procured and implemented. First of all, it aggregates all Sun software -- Sun ONE middleware, storage software, cluster, and grid computing software -- in one open, network-computing package. Then, it delivers the software on a quarterly basis along with Solaris -- for SPARC and Intel -- and Sun Linux updates, all from a clear roadmap.

With Project Orion, Sun is able to integrate its software at the point of design. This methodology will benefit customers by identifying and transferring integration from the customer's production environment to Sun's front-end development process. Consider the impact that will have. The benefits to partners are equally compelling because Project Orion makes deployment simpler and more predictable. And I won't leave out benefits for developers: Project Orion provides a predictable schedule of feature releases, enabling greater alignment with developers' application releases. This maximizes their revenue potential.

As Sun continues to drive this kind of integration into the Solaris operating environment, Project Orion will expand to provide a common installation, monitoring, and lifecycle framework for efficient management and administration.

So, in short, Project Orion is a new business and software strategy consisting of three industry breakthroughs: the software system, the systematic approach, and a new business strategy.

"Project Orion provides a predictable schedule of feature releases, enabling greater alignment with developers' application releases."

- Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president, Software, Sun Microsystems, Inc.

Continuing from your earlier thread, what is the Sun strategy for supporting rapid expansion in the wireless industry?

Mobility is driving change on the client end of the system. The growing number and variety of mobile clients -- whether PDAs, cell phones, or smart cards -- are making it more difficult to know where a service will be delivered. We believe that companies will focus more on mobility and shift their thinking from developing services for a specific kind of client to using Java technology as the execution platform for any client. In addition, identity management will be critical to the widespread acceptance and deployment of mobile applications, as businesses require a secure and reliable way to identify, authenticate, and authorize client requests for new services.

When it comes to mobile computing, Java technology provides the single unifying thread, spanning the card to the data center, from the smallest device to the biggest server. Java technology is the de facto standard for developing applications for any platform, from enterprise desktops to mobile devices.

Sun's product strategy for enabling mobile computing includes the Liberty specification, which allows single sign-on across multiple intranet or Internet domains. When used with Java Card technology, it provides the highest standard for network identity.

You said that you're basing all this strategy and product direction on conversations with developers. Can you explain that a little more?

Sun is in a unique position in the industry to partner with developers. We share the same interests: openness, community, and innovation. Sun is committed to ongoing conversations with developers, because we know that Sun and developers are stronger when we evolve together -- literally co-evolve, in close partnership.

Put another way, we want to learn as much as we can from developers, in as many ways as we can. By connecting with developers so tightly, we get the most accurate representation of problem spaces and customer needs. Moreover, our conversations with developers help us to solve their problems -- and to understand how we can best design and deliver our products, support, and services. Developers benefit directly from that too, of course. And because we have the same interests as developers, we don't compete with them, and ultimately we are all more successful.

To give just one example of a channel for these conversations, we have developer panels and advisory councils that provide the opportunity for ongoing dialogue. The first of these forums was at my staff meeting, where we had a developer panel speaking directly with all of the software product VPs and managers. It was a great conversation -- we learned an enormous amount about what developers need and how we can be better partners -- and we want to do that again and again.

Let me point out that we have a group focused solely on serving the individual developer, in addition to all of the partner -- and ISV-focused teams. From that group, new programs have been rolling out and will continue to roll out non-stop, including new subscription offerings, further design improvements in the developer Web sites, more targeted newsletters, new content, and so on -- all designed from conversations between developers and Sun. Stay tuned for announcements at the 2003 JavaOne Conference.

So what are you learning from these conversations? How is your relationship with the developer community? What resources are available today, and what new initiatives are planned?

Sun has always enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship with developers, and we are working to make our relationship even better.

There are so many areas where we interact with developer communities, from Solaris, Java technology, and our many open source communities (JXTA, Jini technology, NetBeans, OpenOffice, and Grid). The resources we donate to building the community are huge. To use forums as an example, over 600 Sun employees made over 43,000 posts to more than 220 public forums during the last 12 months. Then there's the 8 million lines of source code we've donated to the open source community over time, and so on.

The evidence of the success of this relationship is compelling. We experience over 27M visits to our developer Web portals and watch over 8 terabytes flow from sun.com to developers every month. By the way, since we redesigned the Java developer sites from the ground up last summer -- 100,000 pages worth -- site visits have grown 150%, at a time when industry growth has slowed.

And, netbeans.org, one of our most vital open source communities, averages 37K downloads every month. OpenOffice.org is the single most successful open source project of all time, with over 75M downloads.

We've learned that most developers do not fit neatly into a single community, such as Java software or Wireless or Sun ONE. Instead, they see themselves as members of many communities. As a result, we are consolidating Sun's developer portals and programs into a single offering, while delivering expanded services in the areas of product distribution, product support, education, community-building, partner links, and content syndication. Check out the newly designed portal at: sun.com/developers.

Could you discuss Sun's commitment to open standards?

Sun has been committed to open standards since its inception -- the "N" in Sun stands for "network." A network relies upon known, interwoven, and reliable connections, so open standards are essential to its very existence.

Sun has a specific definition of open standards. By "open," we mean specifications that are reliable, free from the threat of legal encumbrances, able to work across development and deployment environments, subject to peer review and input throughout most of their lifecycle, and aligned with general industry and customer needs.

By "standard," we mean specifications that are developed in recognized standards-setting organizations. For developers, the promises of open standards are dependability, predictability, and a solid long-term technology investment. Developers need to know that the standards that they rely upon to architect or build business solutions adhere to a lifecycle they can view and participate in, should they choose to do so. They need to be able to plan for updates. They need to know what the future of that standard will be and what it might entail for their work. They need to know of any "gotchas" in the specification and what's being done about them. They don't want to run into any unknown forks in the road.

Our definition of open standards does not include specifications developed by one, two, or three companies that are published on their Web sites without legal terms of usage, upon which these companies develop products they proclaim to be a standard.

Sun's involvement in open standards started the day the company began. I think of TCP/IP, to name a rather important Internet standard. Or LDAP. Or the creation of the Java platform, along with the Java Community Process (JCP) which manages its development via industry participation. We have worked to create XML and its standardization at the W3C. We have a leadership position in OASIS and work with the Liberty Alliance for federated identity management. We helped to create the Liberty 1.1 federated network identity specifications and donate them to OASIS.

We strongly supported the creation of WS-Reliability and its donation to OASIS, and the creation of WSCI and its donation to the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium). We're also committed to helping promote the interoperability of standards, through (for example) our work in the 1980s on "Connect-a-thons," SOAP Builders, the several global e-business Web service interoperability tests that use the ebXML framework, and our work in the WS-I interoperability consortium.

Standards are a constant topic in the industry. For instance, when CIOs consider Web services, a solution based on standards is one of their top priorities. How is Sun responding to this need?

Sun's top priorities align with those of CIOs. Promoting the development and adoption of true standards (as opposed to proprietary specifications) is essential. We try to lead by our actions. Sun has an exemplary track record here, including today's Web services standards work. Think of any of the acronyms that are true standards in recognized standards-setting organizations, and you'll see Sun is there, either as an author or committed participant: SAML, WS-Security, Office XML, XACML, SOAP, WSDL (Web Service Description Language), WS-Reliability, Liberty, XML Digital Signature, ebXML -- even XML itself, as I mentioned.

We're also providing a standard development and deployment environment through the JCP that takes advantage of XML standards. The Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition 1.4 (J2EE 1.4) supports the core Web services standards. It represents the fusion of Java technology and Web services standards in the industry's first open, converged, shipping platform for Web services. It'll be the first implementation of WS-Is WS-Basic Profile, which implements Web services standards as a cohesive and compatible platform for the industry. Sun will be first to ship products based on this new Java technology-based platform which most of the industry will be adopting for Web services.

We recently announced a new Java initiative that will enable developers to better leverage emerging standards for Web services choreography. We just announced the Sun ONE Secure Trading Agent product geared to easing supply chain management, and based upon global e-business Web service standards. In January, we announced Sun ONE Identity Server 6.0, the industry's first open-standards-based network identity solution.

Regarding other CIO concerns, Sun is responding to market needs through a wide range of activities. We're addressing scalability/extensibility, both through our work on the technologies upon which these scalable and extensible solutions are built -- such as the J2EE platform and XML -- as well as through the delivery of Sun ONE products. The same goes for performance. As for price and solution comprehensiveness, I think our Sun ONE product line and our Project Orion provide the answer. The Sun ONE software line ranges from an award-winning Application Server, to massively scalable Identity and Directory Servers, with a full complement of outstanding products in between. Project Orion addresses customer concerns about pricing and "full solutions," by aligning the integration, testing, and release of our entire software line in a regularly released, single cost, package. With Project Orion, our customers can easily deploy a fully pre-integrated software system or selected components of the system, based upon their needs and price concerns.

Let's switch to a different context. How will Sun compete with Windows on the common PC user level?

It's not about competing in all the same markets as Windows. Our enterprise customers seek to reduce cost by using open platforms with improved security and manageability. "Fit-for-purpose" systems that improve productivity while reducing total-cost-of-acquisition, as well as total-cost-of-ownership is one of their top priorities.

Sun will offer an end-to-end enterprise solution. Our desktop certainly provides all of the core capabilities an enterprise needs -- browsing, office productivity, communications, and a highly integrated Java platform that interoperates with MS servers while linking superbly to Orion. Sun solutions will include both the technologies and the services to help businesses migrate from Microsoft to open platforms.

We are pleased to see all of the major Linux distributions supporting the Java language. It really shows that businesses that want to adopt an open desktop without any vendor lock-in now have choices. It's going to be a very exciting time for developers as governments, educational markets, small and medium-sized businesses, and large enterprises deploy these new desktops around the world.

It is astounding how rapidly the Java community has grown. Gartner, the research and advisory firm, has predicted that the number of Java developers will reach 3M by 2004. What does the future of the Java language look like from Sun's perspective?

Those numbers are a testament to the power of community and co-evolution. We believe that the Java language will continue to grow through shared innovation, and benefit from the technology leadership of Sun and its partners.

In addition, we continue to experience strong interest on the part of new developers. More than 2M downloads of Java software take place every month. This supports a recent Evans Data Corporation survey, which noted that the Java programming language is now the language used most by developers in North America, far surpassing C++ and VB. Furthermore, the Java language continues to be the language of choice for building Web services, wireless applications, and mobility solutions.

Clearly, the future of Java technology is very bright. At our recent Worldwide Analyst Conference, Sun laid out its strategy for end-to-end computing, with Java technology as the underlying enabling technology. From the data center to the application and edge tiers, through the client desktop and finally, to the network, the Java platform is the unifying technology. It enables developers to create and deploy the next wave of secure mobile computing and Java technology-based Web services.

You can expect some very exciting announcements from Sun around Java technology at the 2003 JavaOne Conference in San Francisco, starting on June 10th.

Is there a story or theme about Java technology that you think doesn't get enough attention?

First, the Java language supports multiple styles of computing. It is adapting to the future of network computing as we fulfill the development/deployment platform that sits above the operating system. Second, the story of Java technology's ease of use deserves more attention. Sun continues to make strides here, and, again, you should look to the 2003 JavaOne Conference for news. And, I think what's happening in business integration via Java Web services and the evolution related to J2EE deserves more attention.

"The Java platform has established itself as the most versatile end-to-end platform in the market."

- Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president, Software, Sun Microsystems, Inc.

What do you see as the great opportunities for Java developers in the next 5 years?

The Java platform has established itself as the most versatile end-to-end platform in the market. It is a viable technology for creating new applications that will enable new business startups, especially ones that couldn't exist before computers made them possible. If you think about modern businesses, more and more they spring directly from computation; that is, they are defined by what is computationally possible. That means: No technology, no business value. I'm talking about things like Internet marketplaces, hybrid cars, and two-wheel scooters that balance themselves as you ride them -- could an MBA alone put together a business around these ideas? Such businesses are inconceivable without a technologist at their core and conception.

So therein lies a great opportunity. The more developers understand business, the more influence they will have in creating new businesses and making them successful. Java developers are in a unique and powerful position to lead, if they choose to.

What are two or three of the most exciting things you expect to see happening with Java technology in the next couple of years?

I could make a long list. Here are a few things that come to mind: I've already mentioned the merger of Java technology and Web services to form a combined platform above the OS for applications. We can look to the fulfillment of Java technology and Web services on an industry-wide basis. The moves we are making "up the stack" into business integration container standards are exciting. We are using Java technology to get "Internet follow-me" mobility with security. The move to consumer devices as smart "Java technology-powered" enablers is happening very fast. I could go on and on.