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The Economist: The Ponytail Versus the Penguin

May 28, 2003, 01:00 (3 Talkback[s])

[ Thanks to Paul Eggert for this link. ]

"How can you compete with something given away free? That has been the question dogging big software firms, above all Microsoft, ever since free ('open-source') programs made it into the mainstream—notably Linux, which is now a serious rival to costly proprietary operating systems such as Microsoft's Windows. It has also been the chief headache for Jonathan Schwartz since Sun Microsystems put him in charge of its software business a year ago. Although there has long been speculation that Linux might one day kill Windows, Sun has always seemed a more plausible, and imminent, victim of free software. But the Silicon Valley firm is now fighting back: a new approach, the product of Mr Schwartz's labours, was unveiled on May 19th.

"Aged 37 and pony-tailed, Mr Schwartz might easily be mistaken for a hacker, or even for one of the Young Turks who developed Linux just for the hell of it--though he also shares the aggression and feistiness for which his boss, Scott McNealy, is well known. He joined Sun in 1996 when it bought his software firm, Lighthouse Design. After that, he was the driving force behind the Liberty Alliance, an industry group developing a rival method to Microsoft Passport for securely and easily moving personal details around the internet. Seasoned observers of the industry are impressed by his grasp of the complicated beast that is software. But will even that be enough?

"Ironically, for Sun, in contrast to Microsoft, Linux has been less a software than a hardware challenge. Yes, the program is free--but many firms use it mainly because it allows them to buy cheap servers powered by Intel chips rather than more expensive Sun boxes..."

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For more insights on Sun's Linux strategy, plan to attend "Sun's Enterprise Linux Strategy" session during next week's Enterprise Linux Forum.

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