Sun Insists Red Hat Linux Is Proprietary

Sun President Jonathan Schwartz explains in detail why Red Hat Linux is proprietary, but others disagree and wonder what Sun is accomplishing with its confusing open-source views.

Sun Microsystems Inc. President Jonathan Schwartz says that he knows proprietary when he sees it and that Red Hat Inc.s enterprise operating system, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, is proprietary.

Following up on his earlier arguments that RHEL is proprietary, Schwartz said, "Availability of source code isnt what qualifies you as not proprietary—Suns definition of proprietary is behavior which defeats the customers ability to compete vendors against one another, or choose from among many compatible implementations. To me, J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] is an open standard—it enables substitution and competition among multiple, competing vendors. Just like Apache."

Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, said Schwartz is confusing the issue. "There is a perfectly good word for what Mr. Schwartz is describing. That word is anti-competitive, and he should use it rather than attempting to confuse open source with proprietary," he said.

"But open source is not equivalent to open standards," Schwartz said. "An open standard is one for which multiple implementations can be used to drive compatibility up and price/cost down. Thats what customers love. Some open source can be proprietary—if it defeats this competition and defeats interoperability by erecting barriers."

Again, Raymond disagreed. "The concept of open source erecting barriers is at best dizzyingly stupid and at worst a conscious setup for a snow job," he said. "I fear in this case we are seeing the latter."

Schwartz enumerated the ways in which Red Hat behaves in a proprietary way.

"One: They provide source code, not binary. The number of customers that have the ability to build their own source trees is vanishingly small—for the most part, this isnt what CIOs or IT execs want their folks doing. This erects a proprietary barrier."

Raymond couldnt disagree more. "So, in Mr. Schwartzs universe, the fact that I may have to type, configure; make; install is a bigger anti-competitive barrier than binaries I cant see inside? In other breaking news, war is peace and freedom is slavery. Mr. Schwartz has a lucrative career waiting at Orwells Ministry of Truth after Sun goes belly-up, something Im back to thinking it will do shortly with a mind like this at the helm."

Schwartz continued, "Two: Theyre promoting binary incompatibility at the RHEL level. ISVs and customers dont simply qualify to the kernel—they qualify to the distribution. To that end, Red Hats forked kernel+distribution disables ISVs from moving from one Linux vendor to another. RHEL is available only through Red Hat. This erects a proprietary barrier."

Here, Raymond said, "This would be fair enough if he hadnt changed the subject. See those words binary incompatibility? Hes talking about an issue that is orthogonal to open source, while giving the impression that he hasnt changed topics."

Next page: Schwartz: Why Java is better.