Open Letter to readers from Tom Adelstein about

Posted by tadelste on Jul 12, 2004 4:38 AM EDT
LXer; By Tom Adelstein
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I hope that people in the GNU/Linux community will give Sun the benefit of the doubt and attempt to understand where they play in the competitive landscape. Room exists for like minded people and if you look deeply, you'll see that JDS serves an important purpose.

Last year, I got a notice from Red Hat saying that they decided to cancel my prepaid subscription to their support network, but that I could buy their Enterprise Linux product and continue with support. Shortly afterward, their CEO, Matthew Szulik announced to the world that Microsoft Windows was a better choice for a desktop than GNU/Linux.

I paid for a subscription because I didn't have time to follow the CERT advisories or track bug fix releases of so many projects. At the time, Red Hat seemed to be doing that well and this was my desktop not the server I deployed.

I didn't like what Red Hat was doing and wanted to find another distribution to use in both my consulting practice and as my primary desktop. So, I spoke to Jill Ratkevic of and decided to do an article providing results of tests of various Linux desktops. I thought that would be a disciplined way to find the product best suited to me and my clients.

Almost everyone provided me with copies of their latest distributions. I set up a laboratory and ran dozens of tests including usability, networking, features, security, stability, package management and hardware compatibility. To provide an example of my tests, I plugged an Apple Studio Display into a Radeon 9000 card I put in a five-year old Gateway 550 and plugged a DRI cable into it just to see what would happen. I wanted to see if a distribution of Linux could recognize that configuration. Microsoft Windows didn't, even with the driver software. Most Linux distributions couldn't handle the scroll mouse protocol and the ATI driver. I got it to work on Linux.

After all the tests, I finally settled on Sun's Project Mad Hatter. I just liked it and waited for over three months for its release. It came out as Sun's Java(tm) Desktop System or JDS . I bought a copy and persuaded Sam Hiser to try it. We both really liked the product and decided to write some documentation for it. We told Andy Oram at O'Reilly about JDS and our decision to write some user friendly documentation. He came back to us and the next thing we knew, we were writing a book about JDS.

During the course of writing our book, we began participating in the Sun JDS Forum and wound up talking to other JDS users about the product and their experience. We also talked to the executives at Sun in charge of the project and got some fair insight into their strategies. We visited with some of the developers and technical leads on the project.

Sam and I concluded that Sun may not have targeted a market we saw emerging. Plenty of people had tried's Office Suite and Mozilla's browser on Windows. For them, it wasn't much of a push to jump to Sun's Linux desktop. We started seeing posts on the JDS forums for help. When no one from Sun responded, we started to answer the posts as did a lot of other Linux people. I found it surprising how many veterans had quietly adopted JDS and for the same reasons I found it attractive.

Then someone came up with the idea to form a community web site and several people wrote that they would like to help. I could see a need for it. Sun had a very defined product aimed at enterprise users. While I could upgrade software applications, apply patches or handle hardware incompatibilities, many of the users drawn to JDS couldn't. A community site would allow use to provide current versions of RPMS built on the JDS, solve hardware problems and write some Linux howtos and compile FAQs.

The Open Source Software Institute helped me out by hosting the web site. John Weathersby agreed to sponsor the site and put up the money and resources for the servers and software. We started putting up the latest RPM version s of some of Sun's desktop applications, wrote lots of howtos and gathered documentation and resources. We kept it low keyed until now.

We have a community site to support the Sun Java Desktop System. It's located at During the process, we discovered some interesting things we want to articulate.

This list isn't in an special order:

1. Plenty of veteran Linux users like JDS and if they have hardware incompatibilities or want additional applications, they just do it themselves. But overall, the agreement seems to be that JDS makes a nice, stable and quality desktop. Sam and I used StarOffice7 to write a 350+ book. We did the screen shoots and graphics with Gimp and did the whole thing on JDS.

2.The number of users migrating to JDS appears very large. We see significant numbers of people switching everyday. They need some help and they appreciate the experienced Linux people's help. The help is given graciously and refelcts well on the open-source community.

3.Some criticism of Sun from outside the community exists. I'm surprised at the bitterness but I understand it. Some of you may know that I had a role in the early successes at IBM with Linux on the S390 landing the first big account in Winnebago. I have worked with IBM, Gateway and Sun in Linux related areas. I prefer the culture, quality of people and the commitment of Sun over the other firms. I just think they're good people. They value community. No one's perfect, but they did buck the trend and spent plenty bring JDS to market.

4.JDS settled on a stable version of the kernel, GNOME and operating system components to fit the enterprise market, not the small office, home office users. While this has some people claiming that JDS is just SuSE, it's not. I went through the Sun distribution extensively. JDS is a custom build of SuSE, but it's also highly refined and the GNOME desktop has a world-class interface. When testing old hardware which originally ran Windows 98, I was surprised at how well JDS ran on those platforms. So, it's well suited to replace Windows 98 without having to upgrade.

5.Converts cite their use of Mozilla and as major factors in moving to Linux. Others have gotten their hands on StarOffice7 through K12 schools and Universities as Sun gives them the software for free. I suggest that once someone uses those products the leap to Linux is short. These users also need the most help and that's a motivating factor for the community site.

6.Sun's geared up for supporting enterprise users. That's their focus and the way their infrastructure works. It provides an opening for us to do what we like doing and that's help the single user community.

I wrote this letter to let you know about our community site. I also wanted you to understand what went into the decision to form it. I hope this helps.

I don't live in a you or me mind set. Instead I believe in a you and me world where people can make choices without having to justify their every move and where we can live together peacefully. I understand verbal and written attacks when justified: I could do without SCO and their friends for example.

I hope that people in the GNU/Linux community will give Sun the benefit of the doubt and attempt to understand where they play in the competitive landscape. Room exists for like minded people and if you look deeply, you'll see that JDS serves an important purpose.

Respectfully submitted,

Tom Adelstein

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Help is good, but... r_a_trip 7 1,630 Jul 13, 2004 12:16 PM
Double minded cjcox 9 1,712 Jul 13, 2004 12:07 PM
CERT/Updates Void_Main 4 1,544 Jul 12, 2004 5:30 PM
JDS Traction bstadil 2 1,612 Jul 12, 2004 1:06 PM

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