Sun is doing well, extremely well, with its Java Desktop System. Who would have thought it? Sun, of all companies, is becoming a player not just on the desktop but also—thanks to its distribution deal with Wal-Mart—on the consumer desktop!
Of course, JDS really doesnt have much to do with Java. Its really a combination of the Linux operating system, the Mozilla browser, the GNOME desktop and the StarOffice office suite. Thats well and good, but it does raise some questions: Why is Sun supporting SCOs lawsuit? And how can CEO Scott McNealy keep flip-flopping on Linux?
My answer: Sun has a multiple-personality disorder. One personality sees the company as a hardware vendor. From this viewpoint, everything rests on selling SPARC boxes, and Linux on Intel is SPARCs No. 1 enemy. This side of Sun hates Linux and doesnt have that much good to say about open source in general.
This is all part of a broader pattern. In the past Sun, has often looked outside of SPARC for a business path, first with Intel x86 Solaris and later with its acquisition of Cobalt Linux-powered servers in a box. Eventually, though, Sun has always reverted to its SPARC roots.
Theres another personality, though, that sees Sun becoming a Linux company. Thats the one behind JDS as well as the recent deal with Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) to build low-cost Sun Fire servers based on AMDs 64-bit Opteron chip. Clearly, this ones on top for now.
Finally, theres a part of Sun that still wants to be an application server and software power. Here, Sun seems to have run out of steam. For example, a few weeks ago, Sun released Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE 1.4). This was Big News (in capital letters) for Java developers, and in the past Sun would have made sure that we all knew it was Big News for everyone. Not this time. Sun is presenting J2EE 1.4 almost as an afterthought.
In light of that thumbnail analysis, am I ready to say that Sun has finally seriously committed to Linux? Were Sun another company, I might, but I think that Sun—specifically, McNealy—really doesnt get Linux or open source.
If JDS lives up to its promise and makes out like a gangbuster in the market, then hell live with it. If, JDS turns out to be a flash in a pan though, expect Suns SPARC personality to re-emerge.
Sun, you see, needs to start making money sooner rather than later. McNealy put blamed a lot of Suns stock market woes on the dot com hangover. That was part of it-recall the Sun is the dot in dot com ad campaign?-but Suns troubles has just as much to do with Linux on Intel eating Unix on anything elses lunch and never being able to figure out a way to consistently turn Java into revenue.
I also see trouble ahead with Sun and its partners with its JDS plans. Red Hat has dropped out of the desktop Linux market. SuSE, Suns other big Linux distributor, will soon belong to Novell-a rival. Looking ahead, I think that one way well know if Sun has finally decided to get serious about Linux is if they create its own Linux distribution.
One way or the other, though, Sun needs to integrate its personality. Customers will only put up with a company that blows hot and cold from moment to moment on their core platforms for so long. JDS has given Sun an enormous and unexpected boost. If Sun wants to be taken seriously, it seriously needs to get its act together and take advantage of JDS.
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eWEEK.com Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about Unix and Linux since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.