Red Hat opens losing propaganda offensive against Sun

Tiemann's diaper must be changed

Opinion Heaven help us all - there's a blog battle being waged between Red Hat's chief cheerleader Michael Tiemann and Sun Microsystems' President Jonathan Schwartz.

It appears that Sun's recent rampage against Red Hat - most vociferously delivered via Schwartz's blog - has Tiemann's undies creeping toward an uncomfortable place. This is understandable in that Red Hat is not used to non-Redmond criticism and is unaccustomed to having a Microsoft rival of all things go after its pricey support costs. Red Hat has become the patron saint of Linux and this entitles it to an elevated position that its revenue and size would not typically warrant.

"The open source community doesn't do what you ask them to do unless either (a) they trust you, or (b) what you ask them to do fits into some larger goal they've already signed onto," Tiemann writes in his glob missive directed at Sun. "Merely being pathetic doesn't score a whole lotta points, even if you are an executive of a once-great company."

Ouch.

"The open source community doesn't really care what you think. You can love them, you can hate them, you can ignore them, even insult them, but what matters at the end of the day is this: what have you done?"

Let's be clear here. Sun is notorious for stirring up trouble in a bid to garner extra attention and press. It has done it for years against Microsoft and of late against Red Hat. Sun will say just about anything, if it's outrageous enough. CEO Scott McNealy started this tradition, and Schwartz obviously paid attention during the hyperbole training sessions. Not even McNealy or Schwartz would question this over a beer. They'd giggle.

Tiemann, however, is way off base and has done something the Sun executives rarely do - be petty instead of somewhat smart.

As Sun likes to point out, it's the second leading supplier of open source code on the planet - not after Red Hat but after UC Berkeley. Sun funds and supports OpenOffice - er, didn't Red Hat once give the finger to the Linux desktop. Sun has thrown plenty of tools back to the open source community and plans to open source Solaris. In addition, Sun has been a longtime supporter of CollabNet - a maker of some of the best tools around for developing open source code. ( Brian Behlendorf, founder of CollabNet and co-author of Apache, would likely - hate to puts word in his mouth - tell you there is value in creating a viable business model around code instead of just waving the open source flag.)

Tiemann ignores all of this to throw some kind of hissy fit.

"Now, you say that you love the open source community, but how much? If you love the open source community, you'd open source Java," he says.

"Would you promise that any open source developer can use any of your patents in open source code without fear of a lawsuit from you? Would you create a fund to defend open source developers against the predatory practice of other patent holders? Would you put your financial muscle (what's left of it) and lobbying credibility (still good, I acknowledge) behind fighting software patents--something our community universally hates because it threatens our ability to innovate? And if you won't, why not? Because you love Microsoft more?"

Easy, Michael, take your meds. Stop watching Days of Our Lives and get back to the office. Sun hasn't become Microsoft's hairless love slave.

Sun's decision whether or not to open source Java is Sun's decision. It's really irrelevant to a larger open source discussion. Sun has done more than its fair share for the open source community. You'll notice that it's not attacking the open source community in the first place, but rather attacking Red Hat - a company that is questionably bending the great platform for all, Linux, into a monopoly.

Sun is in the business of making money. Not Dell kind of money, but money nonetheless. Sun has more than $7bn in the bank and pulls in close to $3bn a quarter. Given that Red Hat made just $46m last quarter, it's probably best that Tiemann leave discussions of financial muscle to the big boys. Maybe he should ask Schwartz over for dinner, so he can see what $1bn looks like.

Sun makes this money by having a business that is a mix of proprietary and open source technology. Granted the proprietary pays way more of the bills these days with Solaris on Sparc servers accounting for the vast majority of Sun's revenue, but the company is now embracing openish x86 technology, open sourcing Solaris and selling Linux, which it indemnified well before Red Hat. But away from this, Sun signed a deal last year for 1m Linux desktops - something Red Hat either never tried to pull off or failed at miserably. (Sun's support of Linux on the desktop is one of the keys to making Linux a broad success and should not be underestimated.) And, to be sure, Sun does not love Microsoft. It has a much richer tradition of bashing Microsoft than Red Hat - Sun just happens to have found a way to make billions from the bashing.

It's pretty easy to nag Sun for not opening sourcing Java, but it's sad that Tiemann had to resort to that. Why not go after Red Hat investor and partner extraordinaire Dell. Sure the Round Rock Express sells plenty of Linux servers, but we're unfamiliar with its donations of open source code. The only Linux moment of significance we remember from Dell was when it pulled Linux off all its desktops because Ballmer asked it to, and by ask we mean told.

Many who have met Schwartz say that he has a McNealy-like ego and a bit too much sass for his britches. That might be true. The same people, however, agree that he's pretty damn smart. Tiemann will lose this battle of blogging wits in a big way. It's probably best, Michael, if you toddle back to the labs and find new and improved ways to put proprietary wrappers around Torvalds' code.

"Calling us lunatics and making other claims that don't stand up is not the Open Source way," Tiemann closes.

Um, you've heard of Richard Stallman, right? ®

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