Linux with an attitude (the Schwartz/Jones Sun debate)

by Andy Oram

Related link: http://linuxworld.com/story/44624.htm



In a recent weblog I highlighted href="http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/4715#novell_linux_client">
Sun's odd status in the industry's evolution to free software.
I pointed out there that Sun has a verbally ambivalent and even
fearful attitude toward free software, and that they still take strong
actions in support of it, including their heavy investment in GNOME
and their choice to release the overwhelming bulk of StarOffice as the
open source OpenOffice.org.



You can't always get the best information about a trend by
scrutinizing the statements of a corporate executive; like
politicians, executives sometimes have to say one thing while doing
another. Sometimes they have to take a step in one direction in order
to balance a more significant step in the opposite direction. I
believe Sun is wedded to proprietary software and will lag behind many
other companies in adopting free software, but they can still make
significant steps toward the latter.



Public relations were not made easier for Sun with its spectacular
Microsoft settlement. The relative standing of the two companies in
legal and ethical terms can be implicitly measured in the direction
that money went--from Microsoft to Sun--and the size--1.6 billion
dollars--of that transfer. But it would apparently be unseemly for Sun
executives to continue their Jeremiad against Microsoft, particularly
now that they seem to be exiled in Babylon, learning to interoperate
with Visual Studio and other Microsoft products.



All this is a far cry, though, from undermining the GPL. And even more
distant from suing people as SCO has done. Nor can I imagine Sun
trying to prevent hard-hitting exposés of SCO's tactics, as
done by Pamela Jones in her famous

Groklaw

site.



Now that I've provided my own framework for examining Sun, I can let
you loose to read

Jones's fierce excoriation of Sun president Jonathan Schwartz

in a LinuxWorld article, where all the claims in the previous
paragraph are lodged. Jones's legal work has shown her practical
approach to idealism as well as her sharp analytical talents. There
are many valid criticisms in the article. But there's also a strong
dose of attitude. The evidence does not support her major charges, in
my judgment.



Jones installed the Java Desktop System and was insufficiently
impressed by its display of GPL compliance. But Jones, with her legal
background, is much more concerned about licensing than most users.
The fact is that most JDS users will never see its installation
screen. JDS is a thin-client sort of desktop, meant for use on
corporate LANs. It will be installed by a system
administrator. (Admittedly, though, interest has recently developed
among home users.)



Like sparring politicians in this election year, Jones is setting up
to find the worst in Schwartz's words. I think Schwartz's ear is not
yet attuned in a fine enough manner to the worries of free software
proponents. For instance, his casual reference to forking fails to
show the depth of concern this danger holds for our community; he does
not do enough to reassure us that no actual forking is taking place.
Certainly, one could find all manner of sinister interpretations for
his boast they Sun is "very bullish on the future of intellectual
property in open source"--but one could just accept it for what I
believe it is, an awkward way of saying that open source is
economically viable. Schwartz's embrace of DRM is indeed a
disappointment.



Sun is clearly tired of playing a marginal role in end-user computing,
and wants to bust into this huge and lucrative market. This is a major
corporate paradigm shift on their part, and I see no reason not to
wish them well. Part of their strategy is simply to give people what
they want, such as the ability to listen to music and play videos on
their computers. I should point out here that RealPlayer actually
works on the Java Desktop System, whereas I and my colleagues
have found difficulty getting their packages to install on other Linux
systems.



Another part of the strategy is branding Linux strongly with their own
corporate brand, a strategy where Sun is no different from Red Hat or
SUSE. Jones praises Red Hat and contrasts their marketing from Sun.
But last fall I heard Bruce Perens, Nat Friedman, and others rake Red
Hat over the coals for its new licensing policies around Red Hat
Enterprise Linux. Meanwhile, Red Hat sales and stock have been soaring
(while the free distribution it still gives backing to, Fedora, is
earning a lot of thumbs up), and Sun is doing very nicely with the
Java Desktop System. People have plenty of choice in the Linux market;
let them make their own decisions.



I personally don't feel like the Red Hat Enterprise Linux licensing
regime is one I'd like to live under (although I currently run Red Hat
Professional Workstation on my laptop) and I have a criticism or two
of my own concerning the way Sun positioned Java Desktop System in the
market. But I won't air those criticisms here because right now it
would just add kindling to the fires that already well-stoked.



Carefully argued and carefully targeted critiques of corporate
policies--such as the ones that free software Java proponents aim at
Sun to make Java completely open--are valuable contributions to
debate. Jones's article has several of these. But head-on attacks on
a company or the basic business model it has chosen are not likely to
achieve change, or ultimately to win in the court of public
opinion. Punishing a company for crimes not yet committed won't wash. So let's not add wood to the Linux-versus-Linux fires,
folks. Let's save that wood, and use it as industrious beavers to do
create strong structures and improve the ecology for all.



And when I've sunk to using a metaphor like that, it's time to get
off the weblog.


What is Sun's strategy and how is it different from other vendors?


6 Comments

tydyed
2004-04-30 13:49:00
Java Desktop System Eval
I'm afraid I must concur with Ms. Jones' reaction to the Java desktop System. Look at one of their eval disks. Far from simply not Advertising Linux or the GPL, there is aboslutely no mention of either, anywhere on the disk packaging or in the draconian EULA that appears as it boots. This is a live CD, based on Suse Linux and on the back of the package it states in small print Some of the software on this cd is licensed by Sun BSD and others... NO mention of linux, GNU or the GPL there either. GPL software is supposed to be provided along with a copy of the GPL that allows the users to see thier rights to copy and modify the GPL portions as well as a clear path to finding and obtaining the source code to said sogtware. Though Sun may well have complied with the very strict minimal letter of the license ( I believe the GPL is burried in a third party license directory) it is not in compliance with the spirit of the GPL in any way shape or form.


Sun is, IMHO, going to great lengths to hide the fact that there is anything Linux/GNU/GPL related on that live eval disk!

nzheretic
2004-04-30 20:34:09
Schizophrenic Sun floats GPL'ing the Solaris Kernel
Sun considers GPL license for Solaris
"Maybe we'll GPL it," Schwartz said of Solaris, referring to the GNU General Public License under which the Linux operating system is distributed. "We're still looking at that."

...

Though Sun executives have been cool on the GPL in the past, Schwartz said there was "not a lot" preventing Sun from releasing Solaris under the GPL. It would offer support contracts as an option, in a model similar to that of Red Hat Inc. "We view the GPL as a friend. Remember, (Sun) was built off of BSD and the BSD license," he said, referring to the open-source Berkeley Software Distribution license.


Once it sinks in, that last statement must blow the head of the SCO Group executives, as the Solaris kernel is actually a merge of the old BSD based SunOS and the original AT&T Unix code base.

briscola
2004-05-01 05:54:11
GNU and Linux is also about learning about freedom
Hello reader,


I'm afraid the first author has made a very weak point that the end user is never going to see the Java Desktop installation screen. This might well be _the_ reason why the GPL should be even MORE visible once that Desktop is installed.


The whole GNU and Linux initial trend was about educating people that they have freedom in operating their computer through being allowed to look at the source code (even if few people are going to do that actually), modifying that same code, and freely redistributing the derivative work.


The point that the end user is not going to see the install screen is thus perfectly void. There should be a screen at bootup, clearly stating that 99.999 % of that disk's contents are GPL'ed (or equivalent) products...


Of course, Sun is a company that does not REALLY want to go into the Free Software path.


Sincerely,


Filippo Rusconi, PhD

sysadmn
2004-05-03 07:19:16
Too funny.
I find it pretty funny that one of the criticisms leveled by the FSF against BSD licenses is the advertisement clause. Yet the same sorts of people are more than willing to bash any organization that doesn't advertise or advocate their position. Apparently it's not Free as in Beer, it's Free as in you're Free to Agree with us.
OrlandoNative
2004-05-04 08:10:53
And I suppose....
...that every other computer system in existence happens to throw up it's license terms on each reboot?


If so, I must have blinked, because *I* don't see it.


Even when I boot Mandrake, RedHat, WhiteBox, or SUSE, I may see some company logos, but I don't see a plug for the GPL. Why we should insist Sun put such a highly visible plug in THEIR distribution without requiring it in ALL distributions is hypocrasy at best. After all, the same argument applies - not all users of a computer were the ones who installed the software on it.

OrlandoNative
2004-05-04 08:17:04
Java Desktop System Eval
Oh for pity's sake. It's an 'eval' disk - not the finished product. It's not intended to be used for your 'production' environment, just for familiarization.


If you get the regular distributions's cd's; you get all that source you're curious about.


Does a Knoppix bootable CD that folks pass around outside lectures and conventions have all the source? Of course not.


I know of no distribution where the GPL forms the background for the desktop, or, even, a screensaver. That's the kind of prominence you seem to be requiring of Sun.


If you get the 'real package'; all the parts are there... ...just like the GPL requires - the text of the license, the source, and even the binaries.