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Red Hat vs Sun Battle of Words Heats Up

Red Hat vs Sun Battle of Words Heats Up

Related Links:
  • "Sun's View Is That Linux Is Nothing More Than Red Hat" - Forrester CEO
  • Red Hat Sells More, Makes Less
  • Sun Renews Its Vows to Open-Source Solaris
  • Forbes' "Red Hat = Linux" Spin Angers Sun Microsystems COO


    "When the elephants fight," they say in West Africa, "it's the grass that gets trampled."

    The Linux community is apparently beginning to identify with that proverb, as it watches Sun Microsystems and Red Hat engage in an increasingly vehement war of words designed more to advance the respective commercial agendas of Sun and Red Hat than to promote unification and standards - the two pillars of a successful open source world.

    Sun's president and COO Jonathan Schwartz has, over the past few weeks, been making more and more pointed remarks about Red Hat. It culminated though when he protested about a Forbes magazine headline on September 1 - "Sun Micro Still A Potential Threat To Linux."

    "Headlines like this...really drive me nuts," Schwartz wrote, in his widely-read blog. "Sun is not a threat to GNU/linux," Schwartz thundered, using his deliberately provocative lower case 'l' for 'linux'- "Innovation is not a threat to GNU/linux. dTrace is not a threat to linux. Nor is Solaris 10, nor Janus."

    What was a threat, Schwartz contended, is Red Hat.

    But let us back up a moment. What sparked the Forbes report in the first place was the news from Credit Suisse First Boston that the recent run on Red Hat's stock price was "due at least in part to reports that Sun is changing its plan to encourage sales of its Solaris system on commodity, or non-Sun, hardware." The market, CSFB stated, was overreacting. Many execution challenges remain for Sun, the research firm noted, "and we find no evidence that Sun's recent initiatives at the low end of the market are changing strategic decisions to migrate to Linux."

    What maddened Schwartz was the conflation, in the Forbes report, of Linux and Red Hat. He pointed out that "Red Hat is not linux, despite what they say, and despite what the media (and IBM's ads) seem to conflate."

    His "Red Hat is not linux" refrain was nothing new. It's just that when Forbes gets its wrong - and CNET, whose "Sun Sales Tactic Targets Linux" headline also came under his critical eye - Schwartz was just as unhappy this month as he was back in July. Sun is not targeting anyone but Red Hat, wrote Schwartz. Which is a distro, he underlined. ("Let's get specific," Schwartz urged. "Let's start calling a distro a distro.")

    "To my friends in the media," he protested, "you are confusing a social movement with a single company - that social movement is all about choice, innovation and freedom. Not dominance or dependence." 

    The situation became more inflamed when the CEO of Forrester Research, George Colony, wrote a report last week on a visit with Schwartz and Scott McNealy, Sun's chairman and chief executive, which Colony summarized as follows:

    "Sun's view is that Linux is nothing more than Red Hat. The operating system is not about world peace and the charitable work of the world's great programmers. It's like every other operating system ever created: It's about the foibles, greed, mistakes and engineering prowess (or lack thereof) of one vendor - in this case, Red Hat."

    So, which is it - is it the media that is "conflating" Linux and Red Hat, or is it Sun itself?

    Before any such answer could be reached, however, Schwartz managed to pour further oil onto the fire. In an Open Letter to the OpenOffice community, he wrote: 

    "Please do not listen to the bizarro numbskull anti-Sun conspiracy theorists. They were lunatics then, they are lunatics now, they will always be lunatics. We love the open source community, we spawned from it. We'll protect that community, that innovation, and our place in it, with all our heart and energy."

    - a pronouncement that Red Hat's vice president of open-source affairs, Michael Tiemann, has now pounced in an attempt to characterize Schwartz, and therefore Sun, as the bad guy. "Now, you say that you love the open source community, but how much?" he asks.

    Tiemann then continues, in a crescendo of indignation:

    "Would you promise that any open source developer can use any of your patents in open source code without fear of a lawsuit from you? Would you create a fund to defend open source developers against the predatory practice of other patent holders? Would you put your financial muscle (what's left of it) and lobbying credibility (still good, I acknowledge) behind fighting software patents - something our community universally hates because it threatens our ability to innovate? And if you won't, why not? Because you love Microsoft more?"

    He ends by saying to Schwartz: "We are not bizarro numbskull anti-Sun conspiracy theorists. We are realists, living in a world of reality. Come join us. Calling us lunatics and making other claims that don't stand up is not the Open Source way."

    But Tiemann maybe gets off-course when, on a roll as it were, he throws the open-sourcing of Java into the mix.

    "If you love the open source community, you'd open source Java," he asserts. "If you won't open source Java, it means you don't love us, or at least you don't trust us. Why, then, should we trust you?"

    This last stratagem seems to have acted as a flag to the wider community that, when all is said and done, Tiemann is just showboating, much as he accuses Sun of doing - conveniently forgetting that Sun makes as strong a contribution to the open source world as Red Hat does.

    "The open source issue is not as clear cut as Tiemann tries to present it," commented one observer. While another, replying on the RH site to the Red Hat Executive Blog where Tiemann's cri de coeur appeared, wrote:

    "The [Schwartz] blog you point to is talking about Open Office and you immediately start discussing Java. I didn't follow that jump."

    It remains to be seen what the next stage of this Sun vs Red Hat war will be. But one thing at this stage is clear: in comparison, that other technology elephant IBM seems to be emerging well, with ordinary developers and SysAdmins apparently thinking that Big Blue, while not entirely faultless, has taken a huge business risk in tying some/all of its business and marketing campaigns to the success of Linux, even while having AIX. A risk that is winning IBM admiration.

    "I wish the same could be said for Sun," one message board post at LinuxWorld.com recently said. "Glad to see it's paying off for IBM, in the form of profits and community goodwill," the post continued. The implication? That IBM, rather than Sun and Red Hat, seems to be the one giant player that's recognized Linux to be a (using Schwartz's own words) "social movement...all about choice, innovation and freedom. Not dominance or dependence."

    So, the grass has spoken. Now let's see if the elephants in Santa Clara, CA, and Raleigh, NC, listen. 


    Related Links:
  • "Sun's View Is That Linux Is Nothing More Than Red Hat" - Forrester CEO
  • Red Hat Sells More, Makes Less
  • Sun Renews Its Vows to Open-Source Solaris
  • Forbes' "Red Hat = Linux" Spin Angers Sun Microsystems COO
  • More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

    Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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    Most Recent Comments
    Question 09/27/04 11:35:15 AM EDT

    Now that the Open Office XML Format will become an ISO Standard does that mean Java can now be standardized by ISO?

    Hani 09/26/04 02:27:27 PM EDT

    Sun is Solaris and Java; Yet They are NOT Open Source! Sun is only trying to make itself look like an open source company so it does not get left behind. Sun's agreements and business dealings with Microsoft is a huge threat to the Open Source Community. The facts speak the truth about Sun.

    Mark Slemko 09/26/04 12:36:26 PM EDT

    Sun realizes that Linux is making certain layers of the stack a commodity, and is fighting strongly both on the front of bringing Solaris into the market while providing some added value (what a change from when they were killing Solaris x86 just a short while ago...) and moving up the stack (java desktop, application servers, etc.) while at the same time trying to expand their offerings of commodity servers that can run any platform... and using that as an entry point to get Solaris in the door.

    I mean, "duh" Sun competes with Red Hat, and makes a big deal about being able to be a vendor that has a full hardware and software stack of their own. I don't, however, see any signs that Sun is betting the farm on Solaris.

    stox 09/26/04 06:01:59 AM EDT

    Contrary to popular belief, Sun has done more for FOSS than any other company out there. Integrated over time, Sun's overall contribution has been unmatched. Let's look at a few key points:

    1) Sun workstations were the primary development environment for FOSS from about 1987 till the early 1990s.

    2) How many copies of Linux and related software were dowdloaded from a "sunsite"?

    3) TCL came from where?

    4) Java came from where?

    5) NFS, as we know it, came from where?

    6) RPC's, as we know them, came from where?

    I'm sure I could find many more, if I went digging.

    Sun has been a less then perfect partner in FOSS, but they have been there longer than anyone else, and have made many significant contributions.

    I truly hope, and expect, this trend to continue. No commercial partner of FOSS will be perfect, but Sun's record, to date, is really quite good.

    jd 09/26/04 05:59:41 AM EDT

    By targetting Red Hat, Sun is missing a far more serious threat - SUSE/Novell. Novell has a very substantial image in the server market, and SUSE has grabbed the attention of a great many European Governments. SUSE is also the only DoD-certified distribution, making it the only (legal) player in the US military markets - and they're the ones with the serious money.

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