Two Quotes Today

Two interesting quotes from Scott today -- one funny and one probably taken a bit out of context. Both appear in this article -- Open source "is free like a puppy is free" says Sun boss in ZDNet UK. Here's the first one:

Commenting on Sun's $4.1bn (£2.4bn) acquisition of tape-specialist StorageTek last week, McNealy hit back at analysts who claimed that the move wasn't decisive enough to improve the company's flat performance.

"People say, "Tape is kind of boring". Well, I say go in and tell your customer that you have lost their back-up tapes and you'll see excitement pretty quickly," he said.

Ok, just a funny quote but with a serious message. Seems like Scott. I can her him saying it. Seems clear, too. But further down in the article comes another quote that I bet was taken out of context. Here's that one:

Next on the hit list was open source, with McNealy attacking the widely held view that the Linux operating system is cheap compared with Sun's own Solaris OS or Microsoft's Windows, or even free. "Open source is free like a puppy is free," he quipped, hinting at long-term costs and hassles, and occasional clean-up jobs. This is despite the fact that Sun recently began releasing Solaris under an open source licence.

I seriously doubt that open source is on McNealy's so-called "hit list." Scott is spending millions on , and his engineering teams are out there building the OpenSolaris community and have been doing so for some time now. So why would open source be on his so-called hit list? Makes no sense. Also, the OpenSolaris community will be an open source community, which is stated directly in the last sentence of the paragraph. If open source were on Scott's so-called hit list, I doubt I'd have a job, too. So, I don't get the "attack" characterization up front before McNealy's quote, nor do I get the last sentence in the paragraph written to emphasize a point that wasn't really supported in the first place. Also, if you take out the "despite" in there the sentence takes on an entirely different tone. Of course, taking out "hit list" and "attacking" and "scathing" further alters the story, too, don't you think?

So, what's wrong with McNealy's actual quote? He's simply pointing out that from his perspective as CEO open source is not free. He's right. It takes a strong commitment and significant engineering resources to build and run an open source development project to provide all that "free" code. Most customers who then consume that free code do so through some vendor providing services to support or implement systems based on the code. Isn't that what Red Hat does? And IBM? And Novell? Sun? Or, if customers have the skills on staff, they do the work themselves. But it all costs something, doesn't it? Nothing is free in that equation except the access to the source code, which helps enable a community of developers who have the specialized skills to work on the code.

I don't find anything wrong with McNealy's 9 word quote. However, I do question the 64 words of commentary characterizing the quote. Don't you?

UPDATE: 6/9/05: I see that Cnet reprinted the ZDNet story but under the headline, "McNealy touts 'excitement' of backup tape." Pretty much the same story with the same writer but this version has some small changes. For instance, this one says, "Also on the quip list ... " instead of "Next on the hit list ... " Why the edit? There were a couple more edits as well. Then the story crops up yet again on Silicon.com under yet a third headline, though this one is just ridiculous -- Sun boss scorches rivals and open source. Scorches? Well, I guess the headline did its job -- I read the story. It's great media PR, no question. But after I read the story and found no substantiation for the headline so I lost respect for Silicon.com. Simple.
Comments:

This happenes a lot to Scott McNealy. I think the IT press is always expecting him to respond a certain way so they may be just adding their expectations to his statements. People do that all the time, trying to read between the lines when they've come to expet certain behavior from others. Whether that expectation is justified or not. Employers do it with their employees, employees with their employers, the press with thier interviewees, the public with the press, friends with friends and even parents with children and vice versa. (Speaking of parents, there was a neat post on a sun blog with a letter from someone's grandmother).

Sometimes there are external forces that help to mold public opinion to suit their own agendas. I don't know if that's the case here but it sure does seem like there are a lot of people parrotting the same message as they twist around things that come out of Sun. Like when Sun made their patents available to OpenSolaris a lot of people, some high profile like Bruce Perens, were claiming that it was a trap and they were really threatening linux with their patents.

I was thinking that it must be tough on Scott to have people do that to his statements and actions so publicly and consistently. Though that never seemed to deter him from saying what he means in a clear yet blunt way. You have to respect that. He's made some balsy decisions too. Some have turned out great, other's not so great. (In hindsight, there were probably one too may splits, the whoel x86 thing) In reality, it's probably not so hard hearing others twist your words around when you've successfuly built a well recognised and respected multi billion dollar business pretty much your first job out of school.

It's also good that there are now bloggers out there that help counter these kinds of misrepresentations. Not just from Sun but from others like Ben Rockwood and Dennis Clark.

Sun has a bunch of loyal supporters but it should find some new ways to increase mindshare in it's products and strategies so that marketshare can increase. OpenSolaris is poised to be one great emthod to that end. Another, out of Sun's control, has been the retired dot-com Sparc boxes on ebay the past few years. Sure Sun doesn't make any money off those sales (excluding Sun certifed sales) but most of the people buying that equipment wouldn't be buying new sun kit. For some it's their first foray into the sparc world, for other's it's their chance to have a sparc, like they have at work at home. It's not unheard of to pick up an old ultra workstation for less than a hundred bucks on ebay. I know Sun wants OpenSolaris to drive more new hardware sales and service contracts to large companies but increasing mindshare among the type of people that will spend a couple hundred bucks for an old machine to play with OpenSolaris are usually the types that help build a strong foundation to open source communities. Remember, Linux didn't start out runing on zSeries machines. While Solaris has been around a lot longer than Linux, the OpenSolaris community, outside the pilot program is new. Just my opinion at least.

I'm personally very anxious to see the release next week and wish you the best of luck.</div>

Posted by Tom on June 09, 2005 at 01:56 PM JST #

This is an excellent, excellent comparison. Think of the cost comparison of a purebred puppy and a "free" puppy. It works on two levels.

Training costs are the same. Operating costs (care and feeding) are the same. Service costs (shots and checkups at the vet) are the same.

Over the life of the puppy, the costs are roughly similar.

That is the customer view. Now view it from the steward of the open source project's view.

The open source project (i.e., the free puppy) must be trained, supported, defended, cared for, or it will become unruly and unmanageable, malnourished, sick or diseased, injured, or run away (i.e., fork).

Open source is about more than just releasing code and throwing it over the proverbial fence.

Posted by Mark on June 09, 2005 at 07:25 PM JST #

Jim, I see you are using the new SUN web interface, NICE! 'open source' typically indicates software 'code' which you can review and/or modify as per applicable license. NOTHING MORE! What doesn't the IT industry understand about this concept? Lawyers and IT pundits assuredly have their own view. Awaiting 'Open Solaris' next week!

Posted by William R. Walling on June 10, 2005 at 12:24 AM JST #

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