Sun's Schwartz Badmouths Red Hat Some More - Eric Raymond's Rebuttal

Friday, May 28 2004 @ 03:10 AM EDT

Contributed by: PJ

More Sun silliness about Red Hat, albeit nasty silliness, only this time Eric Raymond rebuts, and, you know, sometimes there is just nobody better. Now Sun's President Jonathan Schwartz says Red Hat is proprietary, not open source. Raymond strongly disagrees and predicts Sun's "campaign of doublespeak" will fail:

"What open source means is simple and obvious—you get the source, you get to use it any way you like, you get to modify it, and you get to redistribute it. There's no "proprietary" in there.'"

eWeek's Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols got the scoop, and he publishes it with this title and subtitle, which pretty much says it all:

"Sun Insists Red Hat Linux Is Proprietary But Red Hat and Experts Disagree

"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 view"

I'd sure like to see that settlement agreement between Sun and Microsoft. Is Sun obligated to keep saying these nonsensical things? No doubt, somewhere down the road, in some inevitable lawsuit, we will find out. Meanwhile, I'll let esr take the wheel.

First here is Mr. Schwartz's convoluted definition of what *he* thinks the word proprietary means, which rivals manuals that arrive with some new electronic gadget for incomprehensibility:

"Availability of source code isn't what qualifies you as 'not proprietary'—Sun's definition of proprietary is behavior which defeats the customer's 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."

Got that?

I believe I begin to discern the true meaning of "open standards are better than open source". When Sun says that, they mean buy our stuff instead of Red Hat's.

Red Hat is promoting "binary incompatability", according to Schwartz, and that morphs them into proprietary:

"'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. That's 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 isn't what CIOs or IT execs want their folks doing. This erects a proprietary barrier.'

"Raymond couldn't disagree more. 'So, in Mr. Schwartz's universe, the fact that I may have to type, "configure; make; install" is a bigger anti-competitive barrier than binaries I can't see inside? In other breaking news, war is peace and freedom is slavery. Mr. Schwartz has a lucrative career waiting at Orwell's "Ministry of Truth" after Sun goes belly-up, something I'm back to thinking it will do shortly with a mind like this at the helm.'"

"Schwartz continued, 'Two: They're promoting binary incompatibility at the RHEL level. ISVs and customers don't simply qualify to the kernel—they qualify to the distribution. To that end, Red Hat's 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.'"

Well, it continues for quite a while like this, and for the sheer entertainment value, it's worth a read. I don't know what he means about providing source and not binary, unless there has been a change. Whenever I've bought from Red Hat, I didn't have to compile from source unless I wanted to. Sun appears to be saying that if you are a business and compete in any way, you aren't open source and if you...gasp...charge money, you are proprietary instead of free. Free as in beer. He never got the "free as in speech, not free as in beer" memo, I guess. He lists, as if it were a crime, that "Red Hat also requires customers to pay for all servers on which Red Hat is running." That is their core business. But Red Hat's product is licensed under the GPL. You most certainly do not have to pay Red Hat to run their product. What is true is that *if you want support from Red Hat*, you have to pay , but this is obviously because if you have 1000 servers you will generate 1000x the support calls. You do have the choice of paying Red Hat for support, or paying zilch and getting no support. Do you have that choice with Sun?

After all the entertainment, there is one very important and quite serious point, and Raymond makes it well, in response to this statement by Schwartz:

"Java is better, according to Schwartz, because 'you can select from BEA, IBM, JBoss or Sun's Java Application Server. Some closed source, others more open, but all based on a neutral, compatible standard, which enables competition and choice.'

"Raymond pointed out though, 'Schwartz neglects to mention that because of the way the SCSL [Sun Community Source License] is worded, all these implementations legally exist solely at Sun's pleasure. The SCSL claims ownership rights for Sun of any technology derived from the reference implementation "or the standard." So, in Schwartz's world, a license which hangs the threat of a lawsuit over your head promotes competition more than source code that no one can take away from you.'"

If Sun is interested in coming up with a decent license that isn't like fingernails on a blackboard to the FOSS community, or to any normal person, for that matter, they might start right there.

On the SCO front, for the record, here is SCO's response to OSIA's recent position paper:

"SCO's Australian and New Zealand boss, Kieran O'Shaughnessy, told ZDNet Australia   that 'nothing the umbrella group [Open Source Industry Australia] has been reported as saying changes SCO's belief in and commitment to pursuing our [intellectual property] claims and initiatives. 'We have a bona-fide belief in the veracity of our claims.'"

He got a promotion, too, from regional manager to regional director, which he accepted, so he's in this up to his eyeballs. He also issued a moderately veiled threat to maybe sue some folks. I guess that is what SCO regional directors do:

"O'Shaughnessy also said SCO would 'never say never' about examining its legal options over comments made by individuals and groups it believed were incorrect and prejudicial to its interests. However, he stressed his remarks were a statement of commercial reality and not intended as a specific warning to OSIA. He added that SCO was 'quite within its rights to seek redress' from those who made inaccurate or malicious comments that endangered the company's business."

So, no more Mr. Nice Guy. More threats from SCO. Oh, no, I forgot. He said he wasn't threatening OSIA, just expressing his opinion on commercial realities. SCO tried that doublespeak with Red Hat, and the judge didn't accept their pretense. A threat is a threat, no matter how you dress it up. When I read what he said, I took it as a threat to sue OSIA and maybe Con Zymaris.

Interesting concept, that, suing over public statements that are "incorrect and prejudicial" to one's interests. I think he might give some authors of the Linux kernel ideas about suing SCO. OSIA is an organization set up to provide information and advice; it's not a business. I don't know Australian law, of course, but wouldn't suing them be kind of like Red Hat suing Laura DiDio? Heaven only knows she said plenty of negative things and lots that wasn't accurate about Linux. Or SCO suing the US retail organization, NRF, that recently told its members SCO's case appears meritless? It calls to mind Richard Nixon joking, I think, about nuking Congress during the Watergate impeachment process. If SCO intends to sue everyone who thinks they have no case, they surely have their work cut out for them. And they'd probably need another PIPE deal to fund it.

By the way, Reuters just sold Yankee Group. They sold it to a private equity firm, Monitor Clipper, and "a group of private investors", only one of whom is named in the press release, Ted Philip, the former President, COO and CFO of Lycos, Inc. I'm sure that will increase your trust in their impartiality. Not that I ever thought Ms. DiDio was impartial.