One of the big upsides of my job is hobnobbing. I clearly didn’t check with our corporate communications team before saying that, but let’s be honest – it’s cool to sit with a head of state, or a head of a corporation, or a CIO with an IT department bigger than Sun’s entire employee base. The perspective is always fascinating.
Today was one of those days. I met with a government minister from an African nation, interested in driving economic development.
We got to talking about the digital divide. Sun’s commitment to eradicating it. The evolution of computing as a commodity, the need to provide network accessibility and free software to the economically and politically disadvantaged. It was a great discussion. He said, “the digital divide fuels the development divide. It’s in all our interests to eliminate them both.” Bingo, let’s get on with it.
It was also a perfect opportunity to discuss Sun’s new branding. As you’ve probably seen, we’ve been talking up the Participation Age. The Participation Age leaves behind the network as a tool for the uninformed to access great databases in the sky (known as the Information Age), and drives toward a network in which individuals can participate. They can drive the dialog, drive economic opportunity, for themselves and their communities. They can educate, not simply be educated. Individuals can participate – leveraging a growing world of free services and technologies, from blogs to Java, wikis to a world of wonderful new services.
Now, I’ve heard from a few stockholders saying, “What? Sharing? Free Software? What’s up with that! Go make some money!” And so I thought I’d put down, once and for all, why we’re committed to sharing, to open source, open standards, and eradicating the digital divide. Ready?
Because we’re going to make more money.
How? It’s trivially simple. Why do carriers give handsets away for free? Because they make money on the subscription necessary to receive the handset. Why do banks give away free checking, or free credit cards? Because they acquire new customers. Why do Google and Yahoo! give away free search? Because there’s a fortune in the end result.
So why on earth would we give our OS away for free?
Because it’ll ensure those without the economic wherewithal to pay for it will still consider using it. Companies that suffered from piracy a decade ago now know the lesson well – piracy is a good thing so long as the pirates are folks who could never afford your products. So stop calling them pirates, call them users. Free software has no pirates. As I’ve said forever, there’s value in volume, even if you’re not paid for it.
Do I worry about enterprises or corporate customers taking OpenSolaris and not acquiring a subscription to someone’s (hopefully our) service contract? No, not in the least. Do you really think a hospital, or an air traffic control authority or a Minister from an African nation would run their institution on unsupported software? No. No way.
Are we guaranteed to get that business? Nope. But we are guaranteed the opportunity will be greater than if we kept Solaris locked up. And I’d rather get 20% of a business that’s planetary in scope, than 100% of a business with 17 customers. Like I said, there’s value in volume. (And I haven’t even touched upon the impact of open sourcing on innovation.)
To prove the point, the Minister this morning was joined by the head of a bank headquartered in his country. His customers are increasingly coming to him via the network. He clearly recognized that a world in which the development and digital divides have been eradicated is a world in which he grows more customers, transaction volumes and business opportunities. And we both recognized that as the divides are eradicated, he’d find himself…
…buying more infrastructure to support his business. (Just so happened he was a Sun customer – and given that it is Q4, I will admit to giving him a brief update on chip multi-threading and storage containers.)
Sharing is good for our business. Free software is good for our business. Anyone who believes in preserving the old model of software distribution is, at a certain level, fighting gravity. The most popular credit cards are the free ones. The most popular handsets, search engines, and checking accounts are the free ones. Just like the most popular operating systems will be, in the long run, the…