Post Red Hat knock-off, Sun still plans own Linux

But up to which point, Lord Copper?

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Sun Microsystems Inc has maintained that it will be developing its own extensions to the Linux operating system after confirming suggestions that its recently released Sun Linux 5.0 distribution is based almost entirely on Red Hat Inc's Linux 7.2,

writes Matthew Aslett.

Announcing its plans to introduce its first general purpose Linux server back in February, Santa Clara, California-based Sun said that it would be developing its own Linux distribution and including technologies from its own Solaris version of Unix to bolster Linux's reliability and stability.

However, with the release of Sun Linux 5.0 this week, it was clear that its development was not entirely Sun's own work. The company's own developer resources describe Sun Linux 5.0 as "highly compatible with Red Hat Linux 7.2" and describes the differences between the two as RPM package manager versions and installer functions.

"The general position is that we have taken the Red Hat distribution and optimized it for Sun customers," said Sun's volume products business manager, Simon Tindall. He also stated that the company has altered Red Hat with the addition of device drivers and changes to the security mechanisms to ensure tight compatibility with Sun's new LX50 Intel server.

Given that the Linux operating system is published with the open source General Public License, Sun is as entitled as anyone else to repackage existing distributions as its own, as long as modifications are also released under the GPL. As for Raleigh, North Carolina-based Red Hat, it has taken the appropriation of its code in good faith, but raised questions over Sun's long-term Linux strategy.

"The issue for Sun is how are they going to continue to develop Red Hat Linux as they move forward?" said Red Hat director for northern Europe, Scott Harrison. "Sun has missed the point. Users are going to be locked in to Sun's version of Linux because it will only be certified to run on Sun hardware. Sun's product is frozen in time."

Tindall denied that this was the case and maintained that Sun will develop Sun Linux itself with the addition of Solaris features. "The aim is to incorporate the greatest degree of compatibility between Solaris and Linux," he said. "We will have regular releases of Sun Linux, which won't be dictated by any other versions of Linux. The aim is to take what's good out of the open source world and incorporate that, and to take what's good out of Solaris and incorporate and open source that where possible," he said.

Tindall added that Sun's reasoning behind owning its own Linux distribution was to ensure that it could be certified for support and to ensure that all customers are using the same product. "The general aims of Sun Linux are two-fold," he said. "It's a distribution we can control and offer Sun-backed support for. By owning the distribution we're able to control the rate of migration and we can be sure that we can support the certified distribution which will be released with specific release dates, so users are not being pushed on to the latest operating systems." Although Sun Linux will be available for download, Sun will only be offering support for the operating system deployed on its own LX50 server.

The admission that Sun Linux relies heavily on Red Hat Linux makes a mockery of Sun chairman and CEO Scott McNealy's recent criticism of Red Hat. "We have to force the world to LSB compliance, not Red Hat or IBM compliance," McNealy told LinuxWorld delegates as he announced Sun's support for the Linux Standards Base. Red Hat was subsequently one of only three Linux distributors to receive LSB certification, along with SuSE Linux AG and MandrakeSoft SA. Tindall commented that he interpreted McNealy's comment as an affirmation of the need for standards, rather than a criticism of Red Hat.

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