Page Two

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-05-26 Print this article Print

Java is better, according to Schwartz, because "you can select from BEA, IBM, JBoss or Suns Java Application Server. Some closed source, others more open, but all based on a neutral, compatible standard, which enables competition and choice."

Raymond pointed out though, "Schwartz neglects to mention that because of the way the SCSL [Sun Community Source License] is worded, all these implementations legally exist solely at Suns pleasure. The SCSL claims ownership rights for Sun of any technology derived from the reference implementation or the standard. So, in Schwartzs world, a license which hangs the threat of a lawsuit over your head promotes competition more than source code that no one can take away from you."

Schwartz continued, "Three: They tether their systems to the Red Hat Network. Customers that want to retrieve information contained in Red Hats database cant— the system is not open to enable customers to move to another support providers network. This erects a proprietary barrier." And "Four: As their control increases, so does their price. If Red Hat was free, customers wouldnt have to pay—so clearly its not, or Red Hat wouldnt be so aggressively raising prices. Open source doesnt equate to free—witness that Red Hat also requires customers to pay for all servers on which Red Hat is running. Blessed by the FSF [Free Software Foundation] or not—customers know full well that Red Hat is far from free."

Here, Raymond doesnt disagree. "These would be respectable arguments if Schwartz werent trying to use them to confuse the open-source [issues]."

Schwartz concluded that when you put it all together, Red Hats approach is "quite obviously proprietary."

Raymond couldnt disagree more. He sees Schwartz as attacking Red Hat in specific, and Linux in general, because Sun is in trouble. "This is desperation talking. Sun sees its business crumbling because nobody wants to be in the proprietary trap anymore, so Schwartz has been given the unenviable job of persuading the public that open source is no better.

"This campaign of doublespeak will fail for at least two reasons. One: What open source means is simple and obvious—you get the source, you get to use it any way you like, you get to modify it, and you get to redistribute it. Theres no proprietary in there."

And, "Two: Sun isnt competing against a language label, but against an actual body of software. All the term open source did was free people to see that that software is a better value than Solaris. Now that the market has had five years to grasp this fact, even successfully muddying the water about the terminology wont save Sun. Shipping better products can do that."

Some Linux users, however, do see Red Hat, while not violating the letter of the open-source GPL law, violating its principles. Others, however, are perfectly happy with how Red Hat is conducting its business.

Dan Kusnetzky, IDC vice president for system software research, has other problems with Suns approach toward Red Hat, a company that is in theory Suns leading Linux partner. "Sun over the last four or five years has done the most wonderful things for the open-source community—OpenOffice, grid computing and tools—but then they announce things in ways that undercut their efforts. Were going to help Linux grow up to be Solaris doesnt work with the open-source community."

Worse still, "Sun has to make up its mind what its going to do. Since its actions and words dont line up, major end-user organizations will buy from different vendors. Red Hat has decided to freeze their open-source operating system so they can support it. This isnt any different from what Sun does except when Sun does it, its good and when Red Hat does it, its bad. This is similar to the approach that Sun uses with IBM. On one day, theyll complain about how IBM is bad because it has so many different operating systems and platforms, and the next day theyll say how great it is that Sun supports Solaris and Linux on SPARC, Intel and AMD."

And what does Red Hat have to say about all this? Red Hat spokesperson Leigh Day simply stated, "Open source and open standards eliminate the lock-in customers experience with proprietary platforms. Open standards, such as LSB [Linux Standard Base], create interoperable, secure, flexible environments for customers and ensure application compatibility.

"Red Hat continues to regard open source as the core of business and technical strategies."

Check out eWEEK.coms Linux & Open Source Center at for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.

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