Sun releases ‘free’ software

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Sun Microsystems has stepped-up its efforts to woo the open-source software development community by releasing more computer programs under a “free” software licence.

The troubled IT systems group said it would publish its Java Application Server on terms that allowed customers to use and alter the product free of charge, on condition that changes were shared with other users.

The move gained mixed reviews on Wall Street. “This doesn't fix the biggest problem at Sun: lack of secular revenue growth,” said David Wong, analyst with AG Edwards in New York.

Sun stock close unchanged at $3.70 on Monday.

Sun prospered in the late 1990s as the leading seller of servers running the Unix operating system. But it has struggled to deliver growth or consistent profits since the dotcom and telecom bubbles burst. Scott McNealy, chairman and chief executive, is trying to win back customers by making Sun software available under open-source licences. Two weeks ago, the company released a version of its Unix-based operating system on similar terms.

Sun hopes these moves will help drive sales of hardware and services by increasing the number of companies using Sun-based software.

In an interview with the FT, Mr McNealy hinted at further moves to come. “This establishes a trend,” he said. However, he declined to discuss details.

Advocates of open-source software development have urged Sun to release Java the technology that underpins its application server as well as being used extensively in web-based programming under an open-source licence.

Java is currently developed by Sun under a “community process” under which outside developers are encouraged to contribute. But the process remains dominated by the company and the Java source code the underlying computer code remains secret.

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