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IBM says Sun's open source strategy lacks support

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IBM has broken the community camaraderie of LinuxWorld by criticizing systems rival Sun Microsystems' open source strategy on Solaris and SPARC as artificial and lacking genuine support.

And, after years of backing Sun's Java as a key ingredient of cross-platform computing, IBM appears to be pitching Eclipse for developers to write their applications once and have them run on multiple platforms while downplaying Java.

IBM attacked Sun while outlining its current policy on open source, which it said goes beyond Linux and focuses on applications and community. It's a move one IBM executive promised would "really change the industry".

Speaking at LinuxWorld in San Francisco, California, on Tuesday, vice president of Linux and open source Scott Handy said: "We are going to be as bold with open source as we are with Linux" by capitalizing on Apache and Eclipse. Handy was unable to put a dollar amount on the sum of money IBM is committing.

As far as bold claims go, IBM is up against some pretty stiff competition these days. After years of inactivity, Sun is now setting the pace having open sourced five million lines of Solaris code under OpenSolaris and releasing the design for its ultra-fast UltraSPARC-T1 chip (OpenSPARC). Sun claims two million downloads for SPARC and 2.5m for x86 and x84.

Rich Green, executive vice president of Sun software, claims that OpenSolaris is a run-away success.

"OpenSolaris has been very aggressively adopted," Green said earlier. "To us it's a means not an ends. We have greater numbers of contributions and innovations going on in the platform and on the platform."

Sun furthermore re-stated its commitment to open source Java - something IBM was particularly vocal in calling for two years ago. The Java HotSpot micro virtual machine, the C compiler and the "majority" of Java Standard Edition (Java SE) will be open sourced by the end of this year.

In the absence of those all-important figures, IBM was asked whether IBM's new boldness extended to following Sun and open sourcing, say, its Power or AIX platforms.

Apparently, not only is the answer "no", but "open source is about communities not releasing code... [not] open sourcing large pieces of code that nobody is interested in or contributing to," according to IBM vice president of open systems development Dan Frye.

Which is odd, considering IBM was instrumental in building Linux and Eclipse by open sourcing large pieces of its own code.

Handy dived in: "IBM backs open source projects that are really open. It doesn't back large self serving projects that don't get traction," adding that OpenSolaris and OpenSPARC are not "great examples of tremendous traction". Apparently, there's only room for two types of operating system: one open and one closed. "You don't need any more."

Completing the IBM/Sun rift, Handy mapped out IBM's strategy for open source beyond Linux tackling cross-platform computing. IBM has begun shipping a version of its Lotus Notes email and collaboration software for Linux, with plans for a Linux version for its instant messaging application Sametime within a few months and the next version of Notes, codenamed Hanover, that will leverage Eclipse's Rich Client Platform (RCP).

Rich clients have traditionally been built in Java using the Swing widget set. Eclipse, though, employs the Standard Widget Toolset (SWT), which is considered faster. RCP also uses runtime modules for Windows, Linux and OS X rather than relying on a Java container. "I consider Java a language, and it's one of the supported languages on the RCP," Handy said.

"We can now build cross-platform applications" he said. "We are developing more than a dozen other applications using RCP to hit other platforms." ®

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