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March 12, 2009

Once again, Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz delivers a worrisome explanation of Sun's muddled strategy. If you're in a hurry, skip to the part around the headline that says 'Free Markets' and read the paragraph before and after that headline. He completely botches the comparison of Sun's no-license-just-support-contract approach with more familiar consumer products.

Credit cards are not free. Mobile phones are not free. Amazon and eBay are not free. In each case you have to pay to use them; you can choose not to use them and avoid paying, except in the case of a "free" mobile phone which usually is subsidized by a contract you can't just walk away from without paying.

By that same definition, cars and houses are also free, so long as you can finance them without a down payment. Amazon and eBay will let you browse for free, but that's hardly a groundbreaking new business model; bricks-and-mortar merchants have allowed that for thousands of years. When there is no transaction happening, nobody makes money. For Amazon, eBay, or a credit card company, that's being out of business. For Sun, we are to believe that's the grand strategy?

The remaining businesses he mentions are ad-funded web sites. I haven't installed OpenSolaris; I don't believe it is ad-supported. OpenOffice and MySQL definitely are not.

I get what he's trying to say: that Sun's free offerings are a prerequisite that customers must first acquire before buying anything from Sun. But the problem is that, well, they aren't. The things Sun is giving away are not tied to a mandatory monetization, whereas all of the "free" things he previously mentioned are. There is no free "lite" version of Amazon or eBay or a mobile phone that you can use to get free books, auction items, or mobile calls if you don't want to get the deluxe for-money plan.

This is a really important distinction to make. Schwartz is trying to say that OpenSolaris, MySQL, OpenOffice, and their other free offerings are like the free slab of plastic that makes merchant fees and finance charges happen for credit card companies, or the web site that Amazon has to run so that you will buy books. But they just aren't. You don't download MySQL in order to give Sun a means to sell you support. But in all the cases he mentions, the free thing is useless except that it lets you spend money with it. Even in the cases (eBay, credit cards, PayPal) where you are intending to transact with a third party, the money goes through them and they take a cut. Again the free thing is interesting to you only in that it allows you to transact financially with the third party. The free thing is useless except that you use it to spend money.

Contrast this with MySQL. Do you know anyone who has ever paid for MySQL? The same is true for Java: have you paid to install a Java runtime or JDK lately?

As a software developer who loves open-source software, I'd like to see Sun figure out a business model that makes this work. But it's pretty clear that either Schwartz doesn't understand the business models of the companies he's trying to emulate, or hopes that his audience is easily confused by the comparison.

March 10, 2009

"...anyone wanting to use this in production will be required to duct tape their entire chest and have a team of oxen rip off the tape without screaming to prove steelyness of spirit..." (from the backgroundjob readme)

March 8, 2009

Interesting: Interview with an Adware Author; The real cause of the financial crisis - An MIT Blackjack Team perspective.

Cool: A Tiny Fruit That Tricks the Tongue.

Funny: Digital Performance Eyewear