Sun Sticks Proprietary Label on Red Hat Linux

By Steven Vaughan-Nichols  |  Posted 2004-04-26

Sun Sticks Proprietary Label on Red Hat Linux

A surprising breach appeared to open between leading Unix and Linux companies on Monday as Sun Microsystems chief executive called Red Hat "a proprietary Linux distribution."

The catcall was sounded in an interview with Sun Microsystems Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz. Besides challenging Red Hat Inc.s contention that it is the premiere Linux company, the remark casts the relationship of the companies into a more adversarial light.

Schwartz made the statement in a conversation on the possibility that Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun might still develop an open-source version of the Java platform. After observing that open-sourcing Java under the GNU General Public License (GPL) "is not off the table," he added that one problem Sun has with the GPL is that it encourages forking. He pointed to Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) as an example.

"There is a fork in the Linux world: Red Hat and the others." Specifically, on the server side, "Red Hat has pretty much forked the distribution. This has given Red Hat tremendous gains for now, but ultimately its an impediment in the growth of Linux."

Sun partners with Red Hat and ships RHEL 3.0 for both the Intel Corp. processor platform as well as Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s Opteron processor. Sun also sells Novell Corp.s SuSE Linux for these platforms.

Schwartz went on to say that Red Hats price increases and proprietary extensions have lead to "CIOs figuring out that open source does not equal open standards. Open standards, which Sun has always supported, are better. Proprietary open source [like RHEL] can come back and bite you."

Informed of the comments, Red Hat spokesman Leigh Day offered that "Red Hat Enterprise Linux is licensed under the GPL, and were totally open source."

"[Red Hat is] not proprietary," Day continued. "We are fully committed to open source and our code reflects that. Red Hat has no proprietary software built in our distribution. Our core strategy is built on open source and we will not deviate from that strategy."

Day added while a binary version of Red Hat Enterprise Linux is unavailable, the Free Software Foundation (FSF) agrees that by releasing the source code, the Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat is compliant with the GPL.

In addition, Linus Torvalds, Linuxs founder, considers Red Hat Linux to be Linux. "Sure, RH definitely has their own vendor kernel, but its not proprietary, and a number of the top Linux kernel contributors are Red Hat employees," Torvalds said.

Dan Kusnetzky, vice president for system software research with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., said, "Suns view is clearly self-serving, although some of the points Jonathan mentions appear to be based upon Red Hats own actions and statements."

"It appears that Red Hat still is making the source code of its products available on the Net. The Free Software Foundations GPL license requires that any changes made to GPL protected code be made available. Red Hat makes the source code of Enterprise Server available. Although Red Hat used to also provide executable code on their Web site, that is not strictly required to be compliant with GPL if my understanding is correct," Kusnetzky said.

Next Page:Sun Pushes its Solaris Platform

Sun Pushes its Solaris


Meanwhile, Sun continues to encourage Linux customers to transition to Suns Solaris OS.

According to Schwartz, enterprise customers will find "better Linux compatibility by shifting over to Solaris rather than sticking with Red Hat Linux. Solaris gives them the data center Linux applications and compatibility they need. With our current subscription model, were cheaper than Red Hat, we run on more than two hundred different platforms and Solaris is a more effective alternative than Window Server or Red Hat."

Russ Castronovo, a spokesman for Sun, later expanded on the companys relationship with Red Hat, saying that the company didnt foresee any changes in the relationship.

"Theyre an important partner and well continue to provide their offerings to customers who want them. We know many customers have made strategic decisions with Red Hat well work with Red Hat to provide the customers with Sun hardware running on Red Hat. Just because were competing with them for some customers doesnt mean were not going to work with them with customer whove already made a decision."

Schwartz insisted that although Sun is pushing Solaris, its still very pro-Linux. "We dont believe that one hammer is good for all nails. For jobs that work on a one-way Opteron server Linux would be better. Theres a role for that class of system."

"I believe we have one of the strongest commitments to Linux in the industry," Schwartz continued. "Look at the Java Desktop System. Look at us putting energy in Linux relationships in other countries like China and, heck, even in Wal-Mart."

"We believe that SPARC/Solaris will continue to play a strong role in larger scale SMP environments. [Hewlett-Packard Co.] suggests that Linux is the future [by retiring HP-UX]. HP had ceded their software business to Red Hat. Thats not a mistake well make. Red Hat is focused on open source; were focused on open standards," he said.

But, what about Suns investment in The SCO Group, of Lindon, Utah?

Schwartz said, "Sun invested in SCO in the first place because then our investment was in Caldera and that was to promote Linux. Our motivations were exclusively to drive Linux. We then made the best possible deal to purchase SCOs device drivers. This was long before SCO launched its lawsuits."

At this point, Schwartz concluded, "we have, I believe, sold our SCO stock."

As for Red Hat: "The best way to compete against Red Hat is not to sue them, but to release a better product."

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