Sun, Open Source and Star Trek

Opinion: With its CDDL and patent policies, Sun is showing that it still doesn't get open source. Argh!

One of classic Star Treks best episodes was "Mirror, Mirror" For those of you who have somehow managed not to see it, in this episode Kirk, McCoy, Uhuru and Scotty are caught by an ion storm in mid-beam-up and end up in an alternate universe Enterprise, crewed by evil versions of their comrades.

I dont know about you, but when I look at Sun and its recent open-source moves, I start seeing an open-source "Mirror, Mirror."

For example, a few weeks ago, Sun announced that it was releasing patents to the open-source community.

Now, as someone who hates software patents, I like the idea of anyone—Novell, IBM, Sun, whoever—opening their software patents up to the community. But, questions began to spring up about exactly how open Sun was being with its 1,600 patents.

Dan Ravicher, the Public Patent Foundations executive director opened up this can of worms by writing in an open letter to Sun, "In Suns announcement, they make sweeping statements about how the open-source community will immediately gain access to 1,600 active Sun patents for operating systems, but the legal nitty-gritty behind the announcement shows that Sun has retained the right to aim its entire patent portfolio at GNU/Linux or any other free and open-source operating system, except, of course, for their soon-to-be-released version of Solaris."

Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the Open Source Initiative, put it more bluntly on Slashdot: "They can sue Linux developers over those patents. They can sue their own Open Source partners."

Then, earlier this week, Suns head of Solaris marketing, Tom Goguen, tried to clear up the situation by saying, "Clearly we have no intention of suing open-source developers." But, that, "We havent put together a fancy pledge on our Web site" to that effect.

Well, if you trust Sun, that might be good enough for you. But, if theres one thing Ive found over the years, its that Sun is constantly changing its stance, and it has happened yet again.

On Tuesday, during the question-and-answer session at the keynote speech of Suns Network Computing meeting at the companys Santa Clara, Calif. campus, COO Jonathan Schwartz said that such opposition came from people who "believe that everything must be GPL. The open-source community is far larger than just the GPL community."

Fair enough, but then Scott McNealy spelled out that, "Sun has an obligation to its shareholders to leverage and protect its intellectual property. We are granting [access to our intellectual property] to people who are responsible and who are signed-up licensees of the CDDL."

Argh! There you go, folks. Sun just doesnt get it.

Next Page: Reciprocal licenses are a concern.