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ORLANDO, Fla.—In an exclusive interview with at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo here, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy talked about Sun’s new service business model, the open-sourcing of Solaris, and Sun’s acrimonious partnership with Red Hat.

Talking about Sun Microsystems‘ push for its customers to move to a subscription-service model, McNealy said, “People are still locked into proprietary systems and don’t want to make a jump.”

“They want security, but we can give them security with Java card authentication. The want control, but remember when we all had answering machines? Now, look,” he said, pointing at a cell phone, “we all use voice mail. People got over it with voice mail. They’ll get over it with remote desktop.”

“Say I poured a drink over your laptop,” McNealy said. “You’d lose all your data, right? But if your writing was already in a SPARC mainframe, you’d never lose data. In time, we’ll overcome all those old fears.”

As for resellers who base their business model around selling Solaris and SPARC, McNealy said they represent a dying breed.

“There are very few of those left,” McNealy said. “We’ve been telling them for years you need to sell services as well as boxes. Most of our major partners, like EDS, have long understood that, and now the others are all learning it as well.”

“Most of the VARs [value-added resellers] understand that they have to add more services than just shifting boxes, and the local partners are figuring it out.”

Sun Java workstations are leaving SPARC behind. Click here to read more.

As for open-sourcing Solaris, The SCO Group Inc. consistently has said Sun does not have the rights under its contracts to open-source Solaris. So, how does Sun propose to open-source Solaris 10?

“We’ll have to explain it when we do it,” McNealy said.

And is Sun considering buying SCO’s Unix IP (intellectual property) rights or the company itself? “You’ll be first to know,” McNealy said.

Before open-sourcing Solaris, “We’ll launch Solaris 10 first. As it is now, the source code has always been available to anyone who needs it. It’s in academia.”

Indeed, McNealy said, “Many people don’t want Solaris to be open source. Developers love the idea. The CIOs don’t like it. We’re doing this for the developers.” They’re the ones, he said, who “still drive a huge amount of business.”

Read more here about Sun’s plans for Solaris 10.

As for Sun’s competition, McNealy said he thinks Sun’s newly announced grid system is better than its competition for companies that want utility-based computing. He said the system’s open standard base makes it work and play well with programs from other companies.

“You can pull out our parts and put in the ones you want,” he said. “You can take out our Web server and put Apache in if you want. With IBM, you get a complete hardware/software box, but it’s a sealed box.”

McNealy said IBM is Sun’s main target, but Hewlett-Packard Co. isn’t a primary one. “HP isn’t really a major target; they’re really not in the same business. They make televisions, they make cameras, they make printer cartridges,” he said. “They don’t offer complete IT solutions. Only IBM and Sun do that.”

As for Red Hat Systems Inc., a company that is a Sun partner and also a rival to Sun, McNealy first spells out: “Our partnership is we certify out Intel and AMD machines to run Red Hat. We do that. We make sure that our Java platform runs on Red Hat. And we’ll install it on our x86 servers if customers ask for it. I don’t think Red Hat wants to see that change.”

“We’re partners there, but rivals elsewhere,” he said. “We’ll install three first-tier environments: Windows, Red Hat Linux and Solaris. Solaris is the best of them.”

When it comes to Red Hat and Sun’s public statements—especially those of Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz on his blog—McNealy said, “We’re pointing out the facts.”

“We have indemnification [for the operating system] and they don’t; it’s a fact. Our software stack goes faster; it’s a fact,” he said. “We have DTrace [a comprehensive dynamic tracing operating system framework], and they don’t.”

As for Sun’s frequent declaration that RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux) is not Linux, McNealy said some open-source people would agree with Schwartz’s argument.

“I have a hard time disagreeing with Jonathan’s blogs; I like his logic and blogs,” he said. “They won’t let me start a blog. It would be very well-read, but I have to play a little bit more like Switzerland.”

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