Related link: http://linuxworld.com/story/44624.htm
In a recent weblog I highlighted
Sun’s odd status in the industry’s evolution to free software.
I pointed out there that Sun has a verbally ambivalent and even
fearful attitude toward free software, and that they still take strong
actions in support of it, including their heavy investment in GNOME
and their choice to release the overwhelming bulk of StarOffice as the
open source OpenOffice.org.
You can’t always get the best information about a trend by
scrutinizing the statements of a corporate executive; like
politicians, executives sometimes have to say one thing while doing
another. Sometimes they have to take a step in one direction in order
to balance a more significant step in the opposite direction. I
believe Sun is wedded to proprietary software and will lag behind many
other companies in adopting free software, but they can still make
significant steps toward the latter.
Public relations were not made easier for Sun with its spectacular
Microsoft settlement. The relative standing of the two companies in
legal and ethical terms can be implicitly measured in the direction
that money went–from Microsoft to Sun–and the size–1.6 billion
dollars–of that transfer. But it would apparently be unseemly for Sun
executives to continue their Jeremiad against Microsoft, particularly
now that they seem to be exiled in Babylon, learning to interoperate
with Visual Studio and other Microsoft products.
All this is a far cry, though, from undermining the GPL. And even more
distant from suing people as SCO has done. Nor can I imagine Sun
trying to prevent hard-hitting exposés of SCO’s tactics, as
done by Pamela Jones in her famous
Now that I’ve provided my own framework for examining Sun, I can let
you loose to read
Jones’s fierce excoriation of Sun president Jonathan Schwartz
in a LinuxWorld article, where all the claims in the previous
paragraph are lodged. Jones’s legal work has shown her practical
approach to idealism as well as her sharp analytical talents. There
are many valid criticisms in the article. But there’s also a strong
dose of attitude. The evidence does not support her major charges, in
Jones installed the Java Desktop System and was insufficiently
impressed by its display of GPL compliance. But Jones, with her legal
background, is much more concerned about licensing than most users.
The fact is that most JDS users will never see its installation
screen. JDS is a thin-client sort of desktop, meant for use on
corporate LANs. It will be installed by a system
administrator. (Admittedly, though, interest has recently developed
among home users.)
Like sparring politicians in this election year, Jones is setting up
to find the worst in Schwartz’s words. I think Schwartz’s ear is not
yet attuned in a fine enough manner to the worries of free software
proponents. For instance, his casual reference to forking fails to
show the depth of concern this danger holds for our community; he does
not do enough to reassure us that no actual forking is taking place.
Certainly, one could find all manner of sinister interpretations for
his boast they Sun is “very bullish on the future of intellectual
property in open source”–but one could just accept it for what I
believe it is, an awkward way of saying that open source is
economically viable. Schwartz’s embrace of DRM is indeed a
Sun is clearly tired of playing a marginal role in end-user computing,
and wants to bust into this huge and lucrative market. This is a major
corporate paradigm shift on their part, and I see no reason not to
wish them well. Part of their strategy is simply to give people what
they want, such as the ability to listen to music and play videos on
their computers. I should point out here that RealPlayer actually
works on the Java Desktop System, whereas I and my colleagues
have found difficulty getting their packages to install on other Linux
Another part of the strategy is branding Linux strongly with their own
corporate brand, a strategy where Sun is no different from Red Hat or
SUSE. Jones praises Red Hat and contrasts their marketing from Sun.
But last fall I heard Bruce Perens, Nat Friedman, and others rake Red
Hat over the coals for its new licensing policies around Red Hat
Enterprise Linux. Meanwhile, Red Hat sales and stock have been soaring
(while the free distribution it still gives backing to, Fedora, is
earning a lot of thumbs up), and Sun is doing very nicely with the
Java Desktop System. People have plenty of choice in the Linux market;
let them make their own decisions.
I personally don’t feel like the Red Hat Enterprise Linux licensing
regime is one I’d like to live under (although I currently run Red Hat
Professional Workstation on my laptop) and I have a criticism or two
of my own concerning the way Sun positioned Java Desktop System in the
market. But I won’t air those criticisms here because right now it
would just add kindling to the fires that already well-stoked.
Carefully argued and carefully targeted critiques of corporate
policies–such as the ones that free software Java proponents aim at
Sun to make Java completely open–are valuable contributions to
debate. Jones’s article has several of these. But head-on attacks on
a company or the basic business model it has chosen are not likely to
achieve change, or ultimately to win in the court of public
opinion. Punishing a company for crimes not yet committed won’t wash. So let’s not add wood to the Linux-versus-Linux fires,
folks. Let’s save that wood, and use it as industrious beavers to do
create strong structures and improve the ecology for all.
And when I’ve sunk to using a metaphor like that, it’s time to get
off the weblog.
What is Sun’s strategy and how is it different from other vendors?