Marketplace Report: Sun Goes Open-Source Sun Microsystems is the creator of software that's used in 3.8 billion mobile phones, computers, medical devices and other gadgets. The company announced Monday that it will make the code for the Java software available for free on the Internet -- a surprising move from a company that once fiercely protected its software. Amy Scott of Marketplace talks with Madeleine Brand about what's behind Sun's decision.
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Marketplace Report: Sun Goes Open-Source

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Marketplace Report: Sun Goes Open-Source

Marketplace Report: Sun Goes Open-Source

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

The software company Sun Microsystems announced a new strategy today. After 10 years of fiercely guarding its Java technology, Sun now plans to give it away. MARKETPLACE'S Amy Scott joins me now.

First of all, Amy, what exactly is Java?

AMY SCOTT: Well, Java is a programming language that developers use to create software, and it also allows that software to run on your computer's desktop. Java's also used in other electronics like, cell phones and medical devices, close to 4 billion computers and gadgets overall.

So the code itself is not something the average person really sees. But especially if you've used the Internet, there's a good chance you're encountering Java in one way or another.

BRAND: And why would Sun want to give it away?

SCOTT: Well, lately Java's been under threat from other so-called open-source products, which software developers like because they're free and they allow many users to tweak and perfect them. Java supporters have been pressuring the company for years to make it open-source, but Sun Microsystems actually makes most of its money selling hardware and other software programs. Analyst Michael Cote with the research firm RedMonk says by giving Java away, Sun hopes to draw more customers to its other products.

Mr. MICHAEL COTE (Software Industry Analyst, RedMonk): Java is something that Sun uses to sort of make its larger ecosystem thrive and operate effectively. So the more popular and the more widespread that Java is, theoretically the more benefit that Sun gets.

SCOTT: And Sun will continue to make money on Java. The free license requires users to share any changes they make to Java with the public, and Cote says developers who don't want to do that will still be able to buy a commercial license from Sun.

BRAND: Amy, does Sun's move put any pressure on that other software giant, Microsoft?

SCOTT: Well, it's interesting. You know, Java was created in part to undermine Microsoft's dominance, because Java was compatible with other operating systems. And Microsoft eventually paid Sun $2 billion to settle a dispute over Microsoft's efforts to thwart Java. The two companies have since made their peace.

If anything, Sun's move, if it works, may help the company stay competitive. It's been undergoing a major turnaround effort with layoffs and, you know, efforts to create new products. It lost billions of dollars after the dot-com bust, and Sun is hoping its tie-up with the growing open-source movement will help it make that rebound.

And coming up later today on MARKETPLACE, we'll find out just how clean those clean-diesel engines are.

BRAND: Thank you, Amy. Amy Scott of public radio's daily business show MARKETPLACE, produced by American Public Media.

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