Explaining "Crazy Ivan"

Everybody at Sun is blogging about the “Crazy Ivan” announcement. As JohnnL put it, “This morning we announced our entire server-side software portfolio will be free of charge and open source. Not pieces, all of it.”

This shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone. Look at OpenOffice, NetBeans, GlassFish, and OpenSolaris: the trend is inescapable. Even so, a lot of people (including Sun employees) have been skeptical; during my travels in the US, UK and India over the last few months, the “open source question” has been raised more than any other. Here’s how I’ve usually responded to it:

In an ideal world, we’d like to sell our software to two different audiences for two different prices. We’d like to sell it to developers for zero dollars, because we want their adoption of our technology to be totally frictionless. And we’d like to sell it to enterprise deployers for as much as possible, because we think it’s worth that much. However we can’t sell the same thing for two different prices – it’s impractical, and in some jurisdictions it would be illegal. (Only the airlines get to do that.) The only way we know how to solve this puzzle is to give away the bits for free and charge for support.

[And if someone decides to deploy without buying a support contract, they probably weren’t a genuine prospect anyway – for us or for our competitors. But they’re still generating demand for Sun-compatible products and services.]

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