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Sun: MS truce clears way to open source Solaris

If that's selling out, we want to sell out more often

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LinuxWorld A senior Sun Microsystems strategist today defended Sun's decision to make peace with Microsoft in April as being beneficial to the open source community. Simon Phipps, chief technology evangelist at Sun, said that any suggestion that Sun had 'sold out' to Redmond in settling a range of patent and anti-trust disputes was well wide of the mark.

In settling its long-running lawsuits, Sun was able to push ahead with plans to open source its Solaris operating system, a move its lawyers previously warned might undermine its legal claims, according to Phipps.

"Sun's lawsuit more was destructive than settling because our lawyers said we couldn't talk about open sourcing Solaris. If getting $2bn through settling a lawsuit with Microsoft is 'selling out' then we'd want to sell out more often," Phipps told delegates today at the LinuxWorld conference in London.

Making peace with Microsoft after such a long and bitter war of words still doesn't come easy to Sun execs. Having abandoned (or at least calling a temporary truce) in the "air war" with Microsoft over ideas, Sun is refocusing its efforts towards a ground war with direct competitors, backed by a new line in rhetoric.

Sun loves open source

Phipps said that Sun's agreement with Microsoft might be criticised in some quarters - but it had "not sold out as much as competitors". IBM has 3,650 staff in IBM Global Services and its hardware operations "devoted to Windows success". Meanwhile Red Hat recommends Windows on the desktop, Phipps says. And there's more. He whipped out a photograph showing that HP was using Windows Server to run its stall at LinuxWorld. Heresy!

Sun execs are fond of saying they are second behind only Berkeley as the leading contributor of open source code on the planet. Phipps cites OpenOffice.org and the Sun Java Desktop as example of the vendor's support of the open source movement. "Sun doesn't hate open source, even though we've done ourselves no favours through some of Scott McNealy's comments in the past," he told delegates.

Phipps delivered a warning that developers should be prepared to fight for the future of open source. After been ignored and laughed at by detractors "we're at the fighting stage in the development of open source," he said. He compared open source developers to trade guilds, and warned they could be exploited by vendors who would "take code and not give it back", or use open source technology to build brands rather than thinking of the community. "Open source is all about communities. Up until the point a product is supported it's just a hollow gesture by a corporation to thrown code over wall," he said.

Patently absurd

Phipps also warned of the risk that forthcoming European patent legislation could pose to innovation in open source development and elsewhere in the IT industry. Phipps is lobbying European politicians on behalf of Sun in opposition to the introduction of US-style patent laws in Europe. He wants more people to take the issue with their MEPs. "If we can fix things in Europe it will put reverse pressure on the US. If nothing is done, bad laws will come in by the end of the year," he said.

The development of open source challenges existing business models but, contrary to what detractors may say, it offers numerous opportunities to generate income. "We need to get away from the traditional model that the only way to make money is to charge for intellectual property rights," said Phipps. "In open source, software experts are compensated for the value they create for their customers and the commons [community] from which they draw is enriched in the process. It's a return to the way markets have worked historically." ®

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