Linux Fundamentalism

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.



I also think it's pretty sad that some Linux advocates like to paint Sun with a brush they should reserve for monopolists and technology obfuscators.

I have a good bit of Sun stock and I'm often torn when I see another high margin piece of software get Open Sourced... but the potential benefits for Sun as a corporation have always been accelerate when Sun seeks to give customers/users of the technology the greatest value.

An integrated, high capacity software stack designed to maximize integrated high capacity hardware should create havoc for the real enemies of open systems: companies that seek to capture users and own them by their own data.

My email lives in a proprietary system at my new company and only open source software allows me to code around the shackles that my data are bound with.

Linux advocates are oftne drinking the koolaid of RHS'es vision that no one should be allowed to sell software... but some people will only use software they can trust and trust comes from relationships and not from religion. Linux advacates often fail to see the value of allow people to disagree because they have different needs to be satisfied.

Real openess is almost identical to perfect tolerance.

Try to tolerate the intolerant... they mean well.

Posted by McD on November 02, 2007 at 05:57 PM EDT #

Extremely well said Harry. I was at the 2005 meeting that Harry referenced and had a "spirited conversation" with Maddog about open source. I was not impressed with logic used during that conversation and certainly not impressed now. That is one of the reasons I dropped my Linux Journal subscription as well.

Maddog needs to come into the 21st century and stay current on what is going on with the industry before he comments on events in 2007. Maddog, if you are a paid journalist, please do the do the proper research FIRST before writing.

The REALLY FUNNY thing about the meeting with Maddog that Harry references was that Maddog pulled my ticket out of the hat and had to give me a very nice Linux polo shirt! If looks could have killed, I would have been dead :-) I have never enjoyed receiving a shirt more. I had a huge smile on my face and Maddog was visibly upset, oh well.... :-)

Posted by Dave Edstrom on November 04, 2007 at 07:32 AM EST #

Urgghh.. every time I read one of these "zomg! religion!" blog entries, especially the ones with loaded terms like "infidels", "fundamentalist", etc.. where you may as well step out and simply make your point open: "see, I'm comparing them to evil Islamists! Aren't I clever!" it makes me a little more sick to my stomach.

We should be able to hold conversation that is reasoned without stooping to such ridiculous emotion-play tactics.

Now, that said ... I think that John's "it's not GPL" comment was probably more on than you care to admit. The CDDL is highly controversial in the Free and Open Source software communities. That Sun flirts more and more with (and even commits to) the GPL, such as with Java and possibly future versions of the Solaris kernel, says it all really.

Sometimes it's worth listening to criticism from the "outside" because sometimes that criticism has some real, if annoying and/or painful, truth. A true measure of a person is how well you can listen to it.

I agree that criticizing Sun for promoting their own products is a bit hypocritical .. but mostly if you skip the fact that everyone you mentioned there is promoting their own products based on a largely common base kernel and user space. As Sun does move more support to Linux and a more common user space (not to mention hardware; and yes, I know that Sparc is documented and other people make them, it's still hardly commodity stuff), these issues fade away, IMO.

Now ... all \*that\* said, I've had some extremely good experiences dealing with Sun on the F/OSS side of things recently. Particularly with Ian and Simon Phipps with regard to the OpenSolaris/KDE project. They have supported both the community movement organizationally as well as provided hardware contributions for the project to test with and serve up from.

As Sun continues with that sort of behaviour coupled with actions, attitudes will change over time. Sun has some living down to do with regards to holding on to Java for too long, guarding Solaris a bit too aggressively at times against Free alternatives, deals with Microsoft, etc ... all understandable, but all part of the history many people sit with. I can only recommend some patience and for all of you at Sun to keep on the new and improved path you're on these days; heads and hearts will turn as Sun aligns itself with these strategies.

Posted by Aaron Seigo on November 05, 2007 at 01:57 PM EST #

Nice. So complain about comparing apples and oranges, then do it yourself.

0. Open Source != Free Software

1. Only after someone is allowed to "CentOS" OpenSolaris...COMPLETELY..., can Sun really talk about how they "open sourced their crown jewels". Sun has contributed a lot to "open source", no question. But Sun is not managing OpenSolaris, or its components in any way close to how RedHat manages its Linux contributions. To even attempt to make the comparison is laughable.

2. As a "Linux" guy, I can say the GPL is not the "only One True Open Source Way". As we all know, the definition of what a real "open" license must be has raged for years and years. However, Sun is clearly doing free software no favors by making many of their product's licenses incompatible with the GPL. Your attempt to direct the criticism back at linux "fundamentalists" is a common ploy. We don't criticize the software because its not GPL, we criticize it because its not licensed in such a way as to allow it to be used or implemented on the most prevalent "open source" OS.

Lets look at it another way....

In Sun's perfect world OpenSolaris "wins" and is prevalent on desktops and servers all over the world. What have we got? A "Sun OpenSolaris" with ZFS, DTrace, and lots of other goodies, and a "Community OpenSolaris" that is effectively a wicked stepchild, with missing functionality -nice for CS classes, and free software zealots, but not much else.

Sorry, not the world I want.


Posted by dan on November 05, 2007 at 04:30 PM EST #

"Let him that has not sinned cast the last stone" since it seems as usual the holy water is being sprayed.
We've seen the barbs and diatribes against Linux and the contortions of Sun and when the obvious road ahead was seen, it was still judged as a necessary evil and the plan was to restrict Linux to the small non-SPARC stuff with the ultimate aim that as the customer grew, they would convert to Solaris on large SPARC boxes.
I personally haven't encountered such, but I heard that Sun refused to maintain SPARC hardware that had Linux installed.
If we look at IBM's record alongside Sun's, IBM's take was that selling an IBM box, be it with AIX, z/OS or Linux, it was still an IBM hardware sale. Sun on the other hand regarded Linux as a threat to SPARC hardware sales and whatever the intent, their contribution to SCO's legal fund didn't go unnoticed.

Posted by Sid Boyce on November 05, 2007 at 06:22 PM EST #

McD says:

"Linux advocates are oftne drinking the koolaid of RHS'es vision that no one should be allowed to sell software..."

Who is RHS? I've never heard of him/her/it. These "Linux" advocates need to understand that the system they advocate is actually GNU/Linux and RMS was its principle developer. As well, they should understand that the original license of the Linux kernel was actually one that forbid selling Linux. Fortunately, others enlightened Linus Torvalds to the GPL - which is infocapitalism at its finest.

Posted by Peter Rock on November 05, 2007 at 10:41 PM EST #

Actually, Jon couldn't have been clearer and more exact. It's not GPL.

Harry - let me tell you something. I've been working on Solaris kit for many years. We've always liked the power, reliability and expandability that it gives. But, in all cases, the first thing we do is replace all the utilities with the GNU ones. From Perl, Python, grep, sed, etc right down to gcc. And you know why - 'cause they're simply better ! And they're better because the GPL has allowed people to contribute fixes for the good of the community.

I also remember the days when 'Open' meant Unix - hah - what a joke. All it meant was that your "c" program had a greater than 90% chance of compiling clean on another 'Open' platform. Thank God we're past that now.

Is Jon a Linux guy ? Well he's probably a GNU/Linux guy. Linux is only the kernel. It's GNU that makes Linux what it really is - an O/S that is truly Open Source. I don't think Jon is one of the kernel developers, so I'd say Jon is really a GNU guy. And it's the GPL that makes GNU.

We've all seen the proliferation of 'Open licenses'. Hell, even Microsoft has one approved by OSI. All these licenses do is cause confusion. And Sun is right up there, adding more to the confusion. But maybe things are looking up. I believe that Java (or a good deal of it) is going under the GPL - is that the case - I'm not really sure as I've never bothered to use a language that wasn't open before.

Posted by Mark Pettit on November 05, 2007 at 10:59 PM EST #

Yes but the big difference is , that Linux is free to
do as you want, and then share.
Solaris is controlled by Sun and Sun is using the opensource to fix problem they can't and making big
bucks for Sun.
This is the same trick $Microsoft is trying to pull.
I agree that Sun Is working with the opensource, but mainly they are working for Sun. Google and IBM are true believers of the opensource and work for the benefit of all, then they benefit

Posted by JIm on November 06, 2007 at 12:54 AM EST #


You missed (or chose to ignore) the real points of the article, that of Sun actively sending "Linux is crap, buy Solaris" marketing messages to people who have signed up to their Linux mailing list.

First of all, you criticize me bringing up issues of Sun's past, yet you talk about a meeting of twelve years ago. I had to think a lot to see if I could remember that meeting, and I finally did remember it. If I remember correctly, you walked up to me and handed me a large document that was the new Sun "Open Source" license, and "Solaris Open Source" plans in the middle of the meeting and wanted me to read it and give you my opinion. My initial reaction of "it is not GPL" was probably based on Sun developing yet another new license at the same time that the Open Source Community was trying to limit the number of "Open Source" licenses that were out there. I was disappointed (not necessarily disapproving) that Sun had not decided to go GPL. As someone who has worked on operating systems a long time, I know that there are legal documents and agreements that limit what a company can do with its software, both in binary and source code form, even when it is perceived that they "own" it.

As far as Sun's past marketing messages and the "non-issue" of endianism, perhaps you think it was a non-issue (and in a lot of cases it was), but Sun's Marketing group made it a number one issue when SPARC, IBM 360, HP PA, MIPS and Motorola ruled the day, and Digital's PDP-11s, VAXen, MIPS systems, and "those weak, toy-like Intel systems" were the opposite endianism. Sun's marketing made a BIG issue of endianism for a LONG time, until they started selling both SPARC (big endian) and Intel (little endian) systems at the same time. Then Sun's marketing issues around endianism went away....go figure. That was my point in the article, the marketing messages.

Sun's newest marketing message was not ten years ago, five years ago or even two years ago. It was May 25th, 2007. And I received two more after that. As a Linux advocate, and potential seller and integrator of Linux systems, I would have a hard time specifying Sun as a Linux system vendor if I thought it opened the door to this type of message going to MY customer. Or, for that matter, people selling or advocating BSD based solutions wanting to sell SPARC servers and systems.

I found this marketing tactic particularly disturbing because Sun had two very fine server systems certified by Canonical, the commercial arm of Ubuntu. I would love to specify those to my customers, but as a Linux channel, marketing reality says that it would be difficult. So I would, as a Linux channel, chose IBM or HP. Sun is shooting itself in its own foot.

And I guess I also find the marketing message disappointing since I would expect more of a marketing attempt against a certain operating system company based in Redmond, Washington....but I admit to not being on Sun's "Microsoft Windows" list, so I do not know what they are being told.

When I was selling Digital Unix and Alpha Linux at the same time I realized that both operating systems had good points, and I allowed the customer to select the one for their needs. If the customer told me that they needed more than Linux offered, I gladly told them about Digital Unix. I figured that Digital could sell hardware and services to both sets of customers. But when I went into a customer site with a channel partner, I did check with them to see what avenue that they and their customer had chosen That way I kept them a DEC channel partner.

As to "Sun bashing", I believe in the same issue of the Linux Journal (or perhaps the next one) there was an article written by Roman Shaposhnik of Sun Microsystems, about Sun's multi-threading technology. I suggested to Roman that he write the article, helped him get it placed with the Linux Journal, and helped him by proofreading the initial draft and making suggestions.

I have also repeatedly told people about the great work that Sun is doing in the multi-threading space, the "data-center in a box", and other Sun technology.

So please do not label me as being a "Sun Basher", I just want Sun to clean up its marketing act, which even you admit needs help. As to sitting down with Sun to do this, I am happy to do it at any time.



Posted by Jon A. Hall on November 06, 2007 at 01:05 AM EST #

I was being deliberately provocative in my choice of the fundamentalism metaphor for this blog entry, for that is the way that many technology ideologues behave (Linux, Apple, Microsoft, etc). With all the blogs out there, I thought it was a good way to get attention and to provoke reaction. It worked! And there were several really useful responses, including pertinent comments from Mark Pettit and a thoughtful rejoinder from Jon (Thanks!). And a few very silly comments, such as

"Google and IBM are true believers of the opensource and work for the benefit of all, then they benefit"

Hmmmm....Google, maybe. But IBM?

My points remain

\* there is more than one way to do open source
\* open source is not the proprietary domain of the Linux kernel
\* Sun's current actions around Solaris and OpenSolaris are intended to provide choice in open source solutions

And, Jon, as I said in as corporately diplomatic a manner as possible, "...Sun's marketing messages around open source software in general and about OpenSolaris in particular have had a rough time evolving and clarifying." Your major beef is understandably with our marketing messages; I will share your comments with those who create them. I am as interested in their response as you are. Oh, and thanks also for supporting Sun's multi-threading technology through your editorial participation in Linux Journal...I did not intend to ignore it.

Posted by Harry J Foxwell on November 06, 2007 at 04:53 AM EST #

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