Solaris and the desktop market
By user9149671 on Sep 20, 2006
I attended Sun's Software All-hands meeting by Rich Green (vice president of Software) two days ago and was excited to hear him say that Sun's future depends on competing more "in the center". I believe he suggested that Sun needs to focus more on meeting our competitors in their own markets. Since I work on the JDS desktop, I was hoping this would mean more opportunities to focus on the desktop market. So, at the end of the meeting, I asked him about his thoughts of the this market. I was disappointed to hear him say that JDS must first succeed in the "developer desktop market" before Sun would consider it being ready to compete head-on with the more popular user desktops.
I think this sets the bar in the wrong place. Other Linux distros (Red Hat, Novell, etc.) do very well in the "developer" market. Instead of picking a market where we are competing head-on with other UNIX distros, wouldn't it be more clever to find our own niche markets where Solaris is the best fit or has a unique edge? Trusted Solaris is one (but not the only) example.
That said, Solaris is a great developer platform with tools like Sun Studio and dtrace, but developers can be a bit religious about what operating systems they like, and pushing too hard in this market could easily stir the sort of pointless flaming that comes along with it.
In my opinion, the time is ripe for a company like Sun to try to compete in the desktop market. Many people who use computers only use the following sorts of tools:
- email (thunderbird/evolution)
- web access (firefox)
- chat tools (gaim)
- word processing/spreadsheet/presentation (StarOffice/OpenOffice)
- PDF viewing (Adobe Reader, evince)
- image viewing/editing (gimp)
For such users (e.g. students, grandma's, etc.), a more affordable free desktop system could be a real option. Sun seems a bit better poised than most other UNIX vendors to compete in this market. I believe Sun is the only company who has an agreement with Microsoft to ship StarOffice/OpenOffice without concern of litigation, for example.
With GNOME/HAL integration coming in just a few Nevada builds, the situation improves even further with decent multimedia support (Real Media, CD/DVD burning, MP3 audio support, rhythmbox) and better desktop support for removable media, such as plugging in external hard drives, USB keys, cameras, and the like). With this improvement, no need to use the terminal to mount devices, making JDS a much more realistic end-user desktop.
I think that one thing that people often overlook is the importance of accessibility support. To sell computers to government institutions (including public schools, libraries, etc.), in the U.S. and other countries must now meet government accessibility requirements. Today, Microsoft Windows is the only other competitor in this market. On the Microsoft Windows platform, accessibility is not free. To support users who are blind or who have mobility impairment, it is necessary to spend thousands of dollars in additional software. Programs like Microsoft Word are not accessible, so special applications for users with accessibility requirements must be purchased. This means that most schools and libraries who purchase Microsoft solutions may be meeting accessibiliy requirements since the computers can be upgraded to meet requirements, but typically do not actually do these upgrades and therefore do not provide real solutions to people with disabilities.
However, with GNOME's accessibility solutions, the entire desktop is reasonably accessible without the user needing to spend any extra money. Since Sun has been the main force behind the GNOME Accessibility Project, and since Sun invests a good deal of effort in QA testing accessibility, the JDS operating system tends to support accessibility a bit better than other UNIX platforms. So it seems that the accessibility market is one that Sun could do well to explore as a niche. Also, it seems that Sun could do more to let people know that this work originated with Sun and Java, and has a real humanitarian benefit.
Furthermore, free desktops are better translated into 2nd and 3rd world languages, opening the door to new world markets, and creating new opportunities for the economically disadvantaged. It seems that the support of free and open standards to the benefit of people needing to network around the world, regardless of economic situation or physical ability, would be the sort of message that fits well with "the network is the computer" and all that.
Even if the JDS desktop never becomes a big money maker (especially compared to selling mainframe class computers), having a product out there creates all sorts of opportunities for highlighting what a great thing free/open standards are and what a poor job Microsoft does providing affordable technology for those who are disadvantaged. This opportunity will likely not last forever, since I'm sure Microsoft will be working to close this gap.
Just my thoughts...