You Can't Be Everything Under the Sun

I wish Sun (Nasdaq: JAVA  ) would pick a strategy and stick with it, already.

The company reported another lukewarm quarter. Sales were $3.2 billion, flat year over year in a seasonally depressed quarter, though the deferred revenue balance grew 14% to $1.9 billion, reflecting more long-term support contracts and large system installations. The biggest news was a $1.25 billion share buyback, which reduced the share count by 6.1%.

If you listened to the earnings call, you were treated to CEO Jonathan Schwartz waxing poetic about the company's vendor-agnostic software platforms. Sun sells servers pre-installed with its own Solaris operating system, or with Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) Enterprise Linux, or Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows.

Some systems, like the ultra-compact Sun Blade servers, can also run a VMware (NYSE: VMW  ) operating system on bare metal, but if you don't like VMware for whatever reason, Solaris has its own virtualization hypervisor now. If all you really wanted was a Solaris-based system, you could also buy it from IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) these days. And if you can't find your software platform of choice through Sun, then you're just a very picky eater.

Then there's hardware. Sun designs its own UltraSPARC processors, on which you can run Solaris or Linux. You can opt for an Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) Xeon processor, or an AMD (NYSE: AMD  ) Opteron, both of which support the whole range of available software platforms. So it's an all-you-can-eat buffet on the hardware side of the table, too.

Also, like the Solaris-on-IBM partnership, you can buy eight-core SPARC processors from third-party vendors -- Schwartz calls this chip "the world's fastest commodity processor." It's so commoditized that you can download the processor blueprints under an open-source license, modify it to your heart's content as long as you publish your changes, and have your own version made by some contract manufacturer.

Sun wants to be all things to all people, in other words. Buy our processors and operating system -- or someone else's. Buy it from us, or somewhere else. We don't really care. Even the Java development platform, which is so near and dear to Sun's heart that it's the new ticker symbol, is open-source and freely available to use, modify, or distribute. That's one decision I happen to agree with because it's a good way to win developer loyalty, but it's also yet another symptom of Sun's ambivalence. Pick a lane and run, Sun.

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