Warp 35

Soapbox of a GNU/Linux lovin' guy.
FOSS just works.

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Location: Groningen, Groningen, Netherlands

I'm a Dutch guy born in 1974. Growing up I went from a dreamer to halfway mature. In 2002 I met my life partner and I'm living happily with hime ever since. I'm seconded at Stork Technical services since 2001. Right now I'm pretty happy with where I'm at.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Sun. Friend or Foe?

I'm an enthusiastic GNU/Linux user. I don't code, but I do my share of getting the word out. Coding should be left to the masters of the craft. VBA bungling in Excel at work has tought me that much. ;-)

I have become dependant on GNU/Linux for my personal computing needs. There simply is nothing that compares to it ***. It makes me largely defensive, when it comes to influences that could cut me off from this wonderfull form of software. So much so, that initiatives that in itself could be beneficial, but could undermine the wealth of software that I can now enjoy, are met with suspicion and mild hostility.

*** (For the BSD crowd... No, BSD doesn't compare. The overall BSD licensing is based on maximum Freedom, but I see more value in a community licenses like the GPL. I'm not going to spend money on closed source anyways. My money goes to protected Free code).

Recently, Sun Microsystems has begun the process of opening up their Solaris UNIX code under Sun's own CDDL license. In itself a good thing. The CDDL license is a fairly good OSS license, albeit GPL incompatible. Being GPL incompatible is not necessarily a showstopper for me. There are other share-alike licenses that are equally good. It is just a pity that incompatible licensed projects can't synergise by direct code re-use. No, OpenSolaris in itself is not really a problem.

What I do find a problem is Sun's stance towards their intellectual assets and the rest of the FOSS community. When Sun trumpeted the glory of releasing OpenSolaris, they also announced the release of 1670 software patents to the FOSS community. On first sight, a very positive move. Then the FOSS community started to read the fine print. No, the patents are not released to the FOSS community. They are, in fact, only released to the yet to materialize OpenSolaris community. The rest of FOSS developers have no guarantee whatsoever from Sun that they won't be sued for infringing on Sun's patents.

Ofcourse Sun is free to do with their intelectual assets as they please, but it makes me feel a little queazy when they co-opt the FOSS moniker to make this PR stunt make splashing headlines. It is not only that they didn't release their patents to anyone else but their own OpenSolaris project (which is not by any measure the FOSS community, sorry Sun, that is just too much Kool-aid), no it seems that the CDDL contains a patent boobytrap.

Sun based the CDDL on the MPL, but they removed the language that would have required them to disclose any encumbering third party patent that they knew of. This is a little akward, because Sun has signed a ten year patent cross-licensing agreement with Microsoft in their landmark Java lawsuit settlement. So what guarantee does a FOSS developer have that Sun has not included undisclosed patented MS techniques in OpenSolaris. It could be a case of look, reimplement basic ideas in "free" code and be slapped by MS with a patent infringement lawsuit.

Sun brushes these concerns off. They will not sue, although they haven't given that in writing either. But what about third party infringement suits? They are not bound by Sun's license grant and Sun is protected through cross-licensing agreements. It seems that the CDLL in itself is harmless, but when combined with software patents it becomes a little jewel. A neat, nearly undetectable poison pill.

It seems that OpenSolaris is don't watch, don't touch for programmers that want to enjoy the Freedom to code whatever they deem necessary. The first warning signals have flashed. the big question is, did Sun do this deliberately? Or is this an unintentional side-effect of their license wording and their contractual dealings with a predatory company? Sun hasn't clarified these concerns yet. Until now it seems like they only unleashed their employees on the forums to sweep these concerns under the carpet.

How must we see Sun? Must we see them as a clumsy company trying to become an Open Source player or must we see them as an assassin sent to undermine the current empire? I don't know yet. I know I'll keep a sharp eye on Sun in the comming months. I love GNU/Linux to much to let it succumb to poisoning, be it intentional or not.


Blogger bill said...

What I see is that open source as a concept works fine. What is happeneing is the Linux kernel people, not the open source community as a whole, are complaining that they can't incorporate others kernel code into Linux. Why should they be able to do this?

From my perspective it's all a non-issue. Whether I run gnome or kde on the Linux kernel or the Sun kernel, who cares -- The user sure doesn't.

Mozilla was faced with the same problem with MS IE. They did not want their code just cut and pasted into IE. The problems arise when Sun says they don't want their code cut and pasted into Linux. Seems fair to me -- the individual open source projects remain true to their roots.

I have installed Solaris on several machines now -- and it's a keeper -- gnome and kde work great.

Sun's neither friend nor foe, they are a business. Just like IBM is -- but for some reason, IBM gets a pass from the Linux crowd.

February 08, 2005 3:02 PM  
Blogger r_a_trip said...

but for some reason, IBM gets a pass from the Linux crowdIBM is more upfront with their intentions. They clearly state what it is they want. Sun has been twisting and turning in their public PR and it didn't woo any true FOSS developers and believers.

Sun has done much for FOSS, but their latest actions were not upfront.

If Sun would have been honest, they wouldn't have made untrue broad sweeping statements about the release of their IP to Open Source. They should just have said that they are granting a patent license on the patents used in OpenSolaris to OpenSolaris developers.

I have no problems with OpenSolaris. Great that there are more options, but don't try to equate one new FOSS OS with all of Open Source. The "longhaired FOSS hippies" aren't stupid enough to fall for that. This is the problem that Sun hauled upon its neck.

OpenSolaris will have a hard time. Not because it isn't a good product, but because it is already tarnished by Sun's schizophrenic PR fluff before it is even released.

February 08, 2005 3:49 PM  

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