By hjfoxwell on Nov 02, 2007
I received and immediately read my November 07 subscription edition of Linux Journal several days ago. But Jon 'Maddog' Hall's rant about Sun has been bugging me since I read it...I must respond. Before I do, I should note that I worked as a UNIX specialist with Jon at Digital Equipment Corporation from 1989 through 1995, back when "Open" meant "UNIX", and us UNIX folks at DEC took a lot of heat from the VMS crowd that ran the company. I'm sure I don't need to review the history and demise of DEC nor point out its failures to respond to customer requirements. Jon was a Linux expert even back then, porting it to DEC's Alpha processor.
In '95 I joined Sun; Jon's career after DEC led him through Linux-oriented companies like VA Linux and SGI to his current role as head of Linux International. Our paths have crossed a few times in recent years. In April '05 Jon gave a talk promoting open source HPC software at a Beowulf cluster user group meeting. I attended the meeting in part to participate and contribute to the group, but moreso for that specific meeting I wanted to show him Sun's plans to open source Solaris. This was a huge step for Sun, not lightly considered, and admittedly littered with numerous technical and marketing challenges. Jon glanced at the plan and summarily dismissed it, commenting "it's not GPL".
Now from someone who claims to "believe in free and open source software", this was a rather disappointing reaction, but one that is common among the GPL and Linux fundamentalists. Essentially, Jon said at that '05 meeting and again in his article that there is only One True Open Source Way - GPL and Linux. All others are infidels to be ignored or derided for their efforts. Jon adds insult to injury by dragging up old news of Sun's past offenses: the change from BSD to System 5, the admittedly wrongheaded decommitment from Solaris on Intel five years ago (and its subsequent very successful reinstatement), and the nonissue of processor endian differences. Nothing confuses customer decision-making more than comparing favored new technogy with a competitor's old technology. Or ignoring significant progress in bringing innovative technology into the open source communities, such as ZFS, DTrace, and OpenSolaris itself, which Jon barely acknowledges. But then he's not an Open Source guy, he's (and I quote), "a Linux Guy". There is a difference.
I freely admit that Sun's marketing messages around open source software in general and about OpenSolaris in particular have had a rough time evolving and clarifying. But, as Ian Murdock recently pointed out to the large and growing OpenSolaris community, in less than two years Sun has open sourced its crown jewel, Solaris, opened its engineering and development processes, created a large, active, and contributing developer community, and now has a working binary distribution of OpenSolaris that has received almost universal acclaim. "Dead reckoning" from Sun's position three years ago has brought users and developers a real choice of open source operating systems. This contradicts the dogma that the only true open source platform is Linux. Users of open source applications can build their solutions on a choice of open source operating systems; some of these OS's are better than others; I guess choice is a heretical idea.
Jon also criticizes Sun for preferring and promoting its own technology, as if this were uncommon behavior for a profit-making corporation. Even Red Hat, which promotes the "Open Source = Linux" philosophy, wants Linux users to turn to their commercial product when they need mission critical support. Sun cooperates, for the mutual benefit of itself and its customers, with Red Hat, Novell/SuSE, HP, IBM, and yes, even with Microsoft. But having a bias towards one's own products is hardly unique to Sun, and cannot reasonably be written off as "bait-and-switch".
So, Jon, in the interest of promoting a more ecumenical open source world, I suggest that you sit down with us infidels and see what we are doing on behalf of the end users and developers. And remember that neither Rome, Linux, nor OpenSolaris were built in a day. You probably won't be converted, but you may become a bit more tolerant.