A tale of two stories ...

Two interesting stories today caught my attention ... one giving Sun some long overdo praise, and the other one trashing Sun with a back-handed, baseless cheap shot. In the center? Linux. Of course. We keep fighting this battle of perception -- a perception that I'm betting will change in our favor in the long run.

Part I

The first piece is a long, thoughtful commentary at Linux Journal by Tom Adelstein. Doc Searls digs out the very best bit from Adelstein's piece:

Of the Linux vendors, the company with the least stake in Linux and the worst consumer relations group has given more to the GNU/Linux community -- Sun. Few of us doubt that a Linux desktop would exist if Sun had not bought, paid for and given StarOffice to the community. Let us not forget the Mozilla and GNOME projects staffed by Sun employees. Sun also put Real Networks players and servers in our hands and continues to march forward with its open-source joint venture called the Helix project.

As a Sun employee, I like that little paragraph. Some parts painfully honest, some downright praising. I can work with that.

Adelstein articulates the need for good community relations and that the big vendors (Red Hat, Novell SuSE, IBM, HP, Sun) sometimes neglect that important task. From his conclusion:

As Linux distributors march to the beat of their enterprise wins, they will continue to discover that the community is the source of their real success. As such, they owe the community better relationship managers than those they have furnished so far.

Government has turned more and more to off-the-shelf components for projects such as the Mars Rovers. It might be the efforts of a few Linux advocates who build a DVD encoder that make it possible to discover a cure for some deadly disease. So, let's not forget the people who brought Linux so far in the beginning. You need us.

To me, as the
Community Manager for the forthcoming open source Solaris project, this last sentence is critical. Vendors need to invest in  community relations people, true, but that's not nearly enough. Instead, companies need to realize that they are a part of the community on which their software systems are based. So, in my mind, everyone's involved in community relations -- engineers, marketeers, sales, PR pros, and executives. All of 'em. All our jobs, to one degree or another, involve community now. And our ability to learn the culture of community will determine who succeeds and who fails. Certainly, you don't have to lose your identity as a corporation, but it seems to me that you must adjust and contribute if you expect to have the support of the community. Any community.

Part II

Ok, now on to the cheap shot at Investor's Business Daily (sorry, no link). Our PR team every day distributes via email articles of interest. In today's News Digest I read an IBD piece by
Ken Spencer Brown titled, "Bud No Longer, Some Bloom Off Maturing Linux Rose." Basically, the article talks about how Linux is all grown up now and has to compete with the big guys in the enterprise. It's not as easy as it used to be, in other words. And I think many in the Linux community realize that. No big deal. No controversy. Till you get to this part --

IBM has pledged not to sue Linux makers or users for patent issues. That leaves lots of other firms that may have an ax to grind over Linux.

Two of those firms are Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. The software giant and the Unix server maker -- until a few months ago sworn enemies -- have redoubled their attacks on Linux.

Microsoft has funded several studies that say Linux is more expensive over the long haul than Windows.

And Sun argues that Red Hat, the dominant Linux seller, is adding things to Linux that makes it too hard to switch to other versions. That leaves customers in the same position they were with Windows.

Wow. Amazing.

First, "sworn enemies" is a bit much, especially considering what's going on in the world right now with truly "sworn enemies." Isn't it more accurate and reasonable to simply say we are competitors? We are. It's that simple.

And what's with the "until a few months ago" all about? The Java settlement? Probably. Well, we're still competitors, and it drives me nuts to be placed side by side with Microsoft in a sentence that explicitly ties us together in our treatment of Linux. Just how is that credible?

Next ... "redoubled their attacks on Linux." We have? How's that? We sell Linux. In fact, although I'm writing this blog on a Sun Ray running on Solaris, yesterday I used JDS on Linux on my laptop all day long. We employ Linux engineers. I talk to 'em all the time. I'm not saying we're perfect on this issue. We clearly are not. But give me a break, Ken. Are you saying we are not allowed to compete against Red Hat? I don't get that. Red Hat is a corporation. They sell products. We are a corporation. We sell products. We say our stuff is better. They say their stuff is better. We are both part of multiple developer communities, some of which completely overlap, and we both compete in multiple marketplaces. What's the big deal?


So, two stories today. Which one do you believe? I like the first one better.


Firstly, congrats on getting the Community Manager for open Solaris post.

With regards to the 2nd article, I think the most constructive thing would be to use it (and similar stories) to develop a FAQ, or add to any relevant existing FAQs. Could also consider some pro-active ways to try to help correct any general miss-conceptions, with interviews, or whatever.

Note, the following is just my opinion, and I don't have any special knowledge of the situation: I think part of the reason for the miss-conception of Sun and Microsoft is two-fold. One, the picture of Scott McNealy and Steve Balmer sitting together happily didn't go down well in some areas. This also lead to a general miss-conception that Sun had "capitulated", when in fact it was really Microsoft who gave in, and as far as I can tell, Sun got pretty much everything they wanted from their court-case against Microsoft - ie if that case had continued and Sun had won, they could hardly have gotten much better.

I think the 2nd main problem, which is more of an issue for the Slashdot crowd, is that Sun licensed some technology from SCO last year. As far as I can tell, all that amounted to was a load of drivers that Sun wanted for Solaris x86. However, some think that it was really an investment by Sun in SCO (or along those lines), and basically that Sun is out to kill Linux by fair means or foul.

I think the only way you'll ever get to close down these miss-conceptions is to provide a detailed and robust defence / counter.

Some people certianly do have a better understanding, as the first article showed. I certainly think it would also help to emphasise some of things mentioned there, such as Linux desktop use (particularly in corporations). Certainly I feel that until recently, the big Linux backers and companies have done little to push this. They have certainly contributed little development as well from what I know. Sun has contributed massively and is attacking the market harder than anyone else - and unlike IBM, HP and Dell, Sun don't depend on the Windows desktop market for revenue. Putting it another way, Sun is willing to go after Microsoft customers where Microsoft are strongest.

Posted by Chris Rijk on September 13, 2004 at 05:24 PM JST #

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