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Might Sun/Microsoft Settlement Be Bad for Open Source?

Might Sun/Microsoft Settlement Be Bad for Open Source?

Silicon Valley diarist and commentator Dan Gillmor was quick to look at last Friday's dramatic Sun-Microsoft rapprochement from the point of view on its possible impact on Open Source.

"For now," Gillmor wrote, "I'm agnostic on how this will affect open source. I'm not ready to assume entirely benign intentions on the part of companies that have made their fortunes on proprietary products."

He noted that "Friday's deal settled a lot of scores for two of the tech industry's leaders," then added, somewhat ominously: 

"I hope it wasn't designed to kill a mutual foe, namely the threat of commoditization."

What did Gillmor mean by this?

He meant that the pressure from widely available, low-cost alternatives like Linux is something that Sun and Microsoft have in common. Even Microsoft "is beginning to feel some heat from the free and open-source software communities," he explained. "If software becomes a commodity, Microsoft's staggering profit margins - and its dominance - will be at risk."

Gillmor raised one other possible alarm:

"The free software community was reading the tea leaves Friday, too, and there were some distinctly worrisome parts of the deal from that perspective. Most notably, Ballmer and McNealy emphasized, as did their press release, the 'intellectual property'' element of their new arrangement. The chief threat these days to Linux and other open-source software is not a lack of quality. It's lawyers."

According to Gillmor, "Microsoft has made clear its intention to use patents to attack open-source software. It has been a key enabler of the infamous SCO Group, the Utah company that's pursuing a holy war against Linux and suing IBM and other companies on alleged contract violations relating to its software."

Groklaw's Pamela Jones follows through on this line of analysis in a characteristically insightful piece titled:

MS & Sun Settle Lawsuit, Create "Patent Regime"

The phrase comes from Steve Ballmer himself:

"This creates a patent regime between the two companies so that we don't run afoul of each other. The specific technical collaboration is focused on talking to each other across the network. But as we looked at this we said, 'Let's make sure we are clean on our patents.'"

Jones in her analysis wonders whether that will be turn out to be good for the end user...or just the opposite.

TechWorld's Chris Mellor raises similar questions:

"Sun says it supports Linux. The truth was revealed by Robert Youngjohns, Sun's executive VP for sales operations: 'It's not just about AMD Opteron and Linux which everyone believes to be the story … but why not think about Solaris X86 if you’re going to have to change operating systems - it is a better implementation... Channel partners are interested in using that opportunity for a cross-sell... We're seeing this cross-sell being very interestingly deployed in the industry. If the price and performance of Sun Sparc is in the same league, many customers are saying good enough.'"

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Most Recent Comments
Satya 05/04/04 11:02:43 AM EDT

I welcome this type of settlement. My perspective is not in terms of favoring Microsoft or Sun or Open-source or somebody. I don't like professionals spreading hatred about companies across the industry circles. Companies should promote harmony between professionals. Today's Java programmer was yesterday's VB programmer. A Java programmer hating Microsoft or C++ or some other language makes so sense; we are living in the world of heterogenious mix of technologies and hence should learn to mix technologies. This settlement should therefore bring harmony between Microsoft's and Sun's technologies; and more than that, I wish it should bring harmony between the professionals. As professionals our job is not to make the customer suffer; no matter what technologies we implement.

DevilsAdvocado 04/06/04 04:11:13 PM EDT

Fecal Extrusion posted

"In all the history of Microsoft, there has never been a
partnership that didn't eventualy go sour, or that Microsoft
didn't somehow end up screwing and crushing the partner."

Watch out for MS push in healthcare - say bye bye to Isoft Group Plc (UK) also they have just been "selected for assimilation" - sorry to partner MS.

Fecal Extrusion 04/06/04 03:32:39 PM EDT

Whenever Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer shake hands with
someone, that handshake is analogous to being read your
last rights (like a death sentence), you just KNOW it is
a matter of time before the person they shook hands with
will be left for dead bleeding in a gutter somewhere.
(and I mean that in the 'business' sense).

In all the history of Microsoft, there has never been a
partnership that didn't eventualy go sour, or that Microsoft
didn't somehow end up screwing and crushing the partner.
Well Sun, it was nice while it lasted. My condolences on
your inevitable loss.

Well, Even Scott McNealy himself said that he doesn't
particularly 'like' Linux. SO, given that, a partnership with MS can't possibly be a good thing for Linux.
(I'm gonna enjoy watchinbg MS tear you apart. Hopefully
THEN, the US DOJ will re-open the antitrust trial, and split
them up like they should have, but were paid not to.)

I'm sure Microsoft had Linux and Open Source in the
cross-hairs when the agreement was made.

And anyone who still thinks "what's good for Microsoft is
good for America" really should pull their heads out of
their @$$es, take a rare look at that thing called REALITY
and stop hanging around this website!!!!

DevilsAdvocado 04/05/04 10:05:15 AM EDT

Smithy posted "Microsoft executes yet another briliant tactical and strategic move "

Gotta disagree with you.It was not brilliant; it was the only move they could make. MS is under threat from Open Source and for all Sun's rantings, they were infact only jealous of MS success and have been seduced by the possibility of sharing some of that (not to mention, the chance of just surviving !). MS had to find allies, SUN was the best option, but all this has done is delayed the ultimate decline of both firms. I'm not an MS basher for the sake of it nor an Open source crazie, but do you seriously think even with the entire development staff of MS and SUN they could field as many developers as India, and China combined and these guys are pro Open Source in a BIG way. The point is software is a product of the intellect and despite what any bed-sheet hooded in-bred individual may wanna believe, good intellect is not the preserve of Western Europeans and their descendants. These guys will produce cheap/free software with development cycles that will make your head spin. MS and SUN are in a fight for survival and they both know it.

Smithy 04/05/04 07:57:26 AM EDT

Isn't it just great to see the intellectual property stealing, job destroying open source crazies scream in pain as Microsoft executes yet another briliant tactical and strategic move to do an end run around the evil open source movement?
And am I just loving your pain and frustration? YOU BET!
Bottom line: Microsoft has managed to remove not only its most determined and bitterest rival from the equation, Microsoft has also managed to make a very, very strong ally of their erstwhile rival, Sun, as well, really strengthining both firms in the process.
Meanwhile, Windows continues to totally DOMINATE the desktop with an awe-inspiring 96% of the worldwide market, and Windows continues to grab the lion's share of the server market with a dominant 55% market share with no sign whatsoever of losing even an inch of market share to anyone.
The Linux crazies are in for a very, very long, never ending period of pain and frustration as they watch Microsoft outmaneuvre them in every department.
Isn't life fun?

Randy Poznan 04/05/04 07:51:28 AM EDT

Contrary to the first opinion, I beleive open source is creating jobs. Look at how much business revolves around linux. Ibm and hp are examples of companies that have made into the billions with linux and countless other small business that use it for day to day business. Where there is growth like that many opportunities are available.

Gongrats to sun and ms for resolving their differences, amzing what a game of Golf can do. Maybe this will be a trend for ms to get friendly and end their linux Jihad as well.

David Mohring 04/05/04 07:10:16 AM EDT

Sun had to choose between shame and war.

"The nation had to choose between shame and war. We have chosen shame.We shall get the war as well." - Winston Churchill, in reply to BritishPrime Minister Chamberlain's "Peace in our time"

First of all the above must be put in perspective to the IBM and Novell Alliance under the Linux flag. Understandably both Sun and Microsoft feel threatened by the formidable progress Novell has made integrating Linux, Gnome and OpenOffice.org with Novell's desktop services. Both Novell and IBM are shifting many of their own internal desktops over to Linux and Novell CEO has stated at Brainshare that almost all of the desktops used within Novell will be Linux based by early 2005.

It must irk both Sun and Microsoft that IBM and Novell are doing so using technology that both had a part in developing, in Sun's case GNOME and OpenOffice and Microsoft's case the Mono clone of .NET.

Aside from the monetary payoffs, the gains for Sun from the terms and conditions do not make any sense for Sun in the long term.

Windows Certification for Sun is the equivalent of hosting hostile enemy bases on your own territory. Sun, like Apple, relies on a separate identity from Microsoft to position itself in the server Market. Windows Certification for Sun hardware is an oxymoron, as it is possible to host Microsoft's OS on more stock standard and cheaper Dell, HP and whitebox hardware, without any significant loss of performance or quality. At least with Solaris and Linux, Sun is able to completely hack, recompile to tune the kernels and libraries to take advantage of any Sun specific hardware.

Interoperation between .NET and Java at the web-service/network layer is already covered by open web standards. Hosting Java code inside .NET's CLR and interfaceing to the .NET framework introduces a whole heap of issues which is going to further stuff up Java's write once goals.

Patent cross licensing does not make any sense to either party since both hold enough patents that an exchange of patent lawsuits would be a case of mutually assured destruction.

Sun's agreement to Microsoft Communications Protocol Program represents a real sellout by Sun. Until now, the only major vendors to sign up to the protocol agreement have been Cisco and guess who, The SCO Group ( only after the "investment" by Microsoft ). Even the U.S. Justice Department expressed concern that Microsoft has not completely lived up to its agreement. ( http://news.com.com/2100-1012_3-5142795.html )
Just as with the SCO Group, it appears Microsoft has effectively paid off Sun to accept this agreement.

Of the legal settlements, where Sun that states that "the agreements announced today satisfy the objectives it was pursuing in the EU actions pending against Microsoft", is the reason why the monetary payoff to Sun was so large. Sun was one of the companies that complained to the EU over Microsoft's licensing of CIFS information in a manner incompatible to SAMBA's GPL license.

When the EU Competition Commission initiated the latest investigation against Microsoft in 2001, they included the following in their press release ( http://tinyurl.com/2e9f9 )
The Commission believes that Microsoft may have withheld from vendors of alternative server software key interoperability information that they need to enable their products to 'talk' with Microsoft's dominant PC and server software products. Microsoft may have done this through a combination of refusing to reveal the relevant technical information, and by engaging in a policy of discriminatory and selective disclosure on the basis of a "friend-enemy" scheme.

The last statement is very important, since the CIFS file and print services software that the protocol complaint was based on is the GPL'ed SAMBA. I don't believe that without Sun's outright acceptance of the Microsoft Protocol agreement, Mario Monti, Competition Commissioner, would even consider any licensing from Microsoft for future required information that would be a licensed in a "friend-enemy" scheme incompatible with the same GPL.

The consumer, like Sun itself, have greatly benefited from the abundance of good quality open source developed and free licensed software, such as SAMBA.

Even Sun's new "Java" desktop environment is GPL'ed Linux and GNOME, the majority of which was developed outside of Sun. GNOME is free for Sun to bundle and sell. Even Sun's Solaris customers directly benefit from an open development enviroment where the infomation required to develop and the right to interoperate remains royalty free.

The press release of Sun does not give much hope that royalty free status will always remain the norm.

I have publicly defended Sun's record of openess in many public forums. I have praised, encouraged and defended Sun's moves to futher open up the JCP to insure that contributers to the standard grant the right for open source project to implement the standards and for everyone to use the open source licensed implementations royalty free.

The Sun customers have directly benefited from this right to freely interoperate, but for how much longer?

Microsoft treaties with competitiors in the long term rarely benefit anyone but Microsoft. Microsoft has screwed over IBM with OS/2, Coral with similar promised with .NET and Sun itself by creating incompatibilities with their version of Java and not disclosing the fact to developers. Read the terms and conditions of the current Microsoft Communications Protocol Program, and ask yourself is this deal better than the right to reverse engineer and use the interfaces royalty free? Most of the protocols listed have been derived from royalty free standards and enclosed by Microsoft's minor tweaks.

Sun and Sun's customers are being screwed, and because of the derived government granted intellectual monopoly
of patents and copyright maintaining Microsoft's desktop monopoly, so are the rest of the consumers in the market being screwed.


SunSpotter 04/05/04 05:50:45 AM EDT

The various Java online communities has started asking the obvious questions...and there are many of them:

  • What does this mean in terms of future support by Sun for the Java platform - more resources? less resources?
  • Will the Sun JVM disappear for a .NET based one (since Sun may have acquired the IP to kill two birds with one stone?)
  • What is the extend of the IP that was cross-licensed?
  • Can Microsoft now implement any technology used in Sun's JVM? How about Sun's n1 project?
  • Armistice 04/05/04 05:46:39 AM EDT

    Sun released a news release on the deal

    oos 04/05/04 05:28:41 AM EDT

    I think the biggest threat to open-source will be not MSFT or Sun but the perceived loss of American jobs. Open-source software is one of the things that allows other nations to compete against us. (It is both an educational tool and lowers the barrier to entry into computer-related professions because the software is "cheaper.")

    At some point people will realize the open-source community is undercutting paid programmers. I predict the same legislation that is trying to curb outsourcing will be used against open-source software.

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