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McNealy: Microsoft needs Sun to beat IBM and Red Hat

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Whatever pleasantries once existed between Sun Microsystems and Red Hat have vanished. This won't come as a shock to many of you. The companies have been jawing in the press for some time. The extent, however, of Sun's loathing for Red Hat is more profound than many imagine, with Sun's CEO Scott McNealy largely confirming a shared attack with Microsoft against the Linux vendor.

McNealy speaking here yesterday at a Northwestern University event on entrepreneurship let the anti-Red Hat venom spurt. The exec rightly presented Red Hat as a serious threat and said Sun has no ill feelings about attacking an open source vendor. This message resonated in a room filled with money-hungry MBAs.

"What's happened now is that the world is down to three operating systems," McNealy said, during his keynote. "That is Windows, Red Hat and Solaris."

"Red Hat is kind of the other pretender there. When we look at Red Hat, we are $400 versus their $2,000 (for the OS) on a four-way server. We have (Solaris) Containers; they don't. We have our worldwide services and support; they have theirs. We have software indemnification versus SCO and Microsoft; they don't. We have NSA-level security . . . We have DTrace . . . We have all kinds of features they don't have."

McNealy continued to say the only thing Red Hat has that Sun doesn't is the open source label on its operating system, which Sun plans to change in the coming months. He also reiterated points about Sun long giving its Solaris code to customers and about Sun's position behind Berkeley as the second leading contributor of open source code on the planet.

But you've heard much of this before. Here's the juicy stuff. The kind of stuff that makes conspiracy theorists drool.

Sun and Microsoft versus mankind

When asked by a Northwestern student why Microsoft decided to make peace with Sun, McNealy drifted into odd territory. His basic claim was that Microsoft knew it needed some competition and that Sun was the lesser of all evils. This claim covers the operating system wars, desktop software and middleware.

"Microsoft needed a partner," McNealy said. "Their customers wanted choice. One is an unstable molecule."

It can only be assumed that McNealy was referring to Linux with that last comment. Sadly, he moved away from the molecular analysis at that point.

"Who else are they going to choose as their second source? You know, Sun and Microsoft aren't that competitive. We don't do MSN, we don't do Xbox, we don't do applications. They don't do computers, storage or infrastructure."

"They weren't going to do it with Larry (Oracle). They weren't going to do it with IBM. They can't stand IBM. They at least respect us. They really don't like IBM. And they hate the GPL."

Following these comments, McNealy went on to describe something verging on a symbiotic relationship between Microsoft and Sun centered around competition. Sun's StarOffice software and Linux desktop provide a welcome foil to Microsoft's desktop dominance, he said. Customers want to feel like they have two, solid options to pick from when considering deals. So just having Sun around makes Microsoft seem less threatening to its clients. Better Sun be knocking on the door rather than Red Hat or IBM.

McNealy vowed that unprecedented work is being done to make all of Microsoft and Sun's software compatible. "Unfortunately, (our stuff) won't interoperate with IBM very well," he joked. The Sun chief then closed by saying the Sun and Microsoft partnership could be one of the biggest and most significant deals "in the last few years, if we are successful."

To say the least, times have changed. It's hard to gauge if McNealy is simply hyping up Sun's efforts or if there is real meat behind the talk. This, however, was the first time in our memory that such a drastic Sun and Microsoft versus the world position has been presented. Isn't it supposed to be mankind versus Microsoft?

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