Sun Sticks Proprietary Label on Red Hat Linux

According to Sun President Jonathan Schwartz, Red Hat's enterprise Linux offering is a proprietary fork of Linux. No surprise, Red Hat and even Linux founder Linus Torvalds see it differently.

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