Linux Threat Posed by Microsoft and Sun: In Your Dreams

Posted by tadelste on Feb 28, 2005 5:31 AM EDT
LXer; By Tom Adelstein
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Writers and analysts love to sensationalize OS Wars. But Linux keeps building momentum.

They say ignorance is bliss. We can say one exception exists - members of the media who write about Microsoft, Solaris and Linux seem to share an ignorance pervasive with pain. With John C. Dvorak heading the list of ignorant writers, one might find it difficult to believe he's a blissful soul. He writes to an audience that has to struggle with a bounty of misinformation.

In Dvorak's latest blundering and blubbering he talks about MS-Linux, a secret project of Microsoft which would add much needed drivers to Linux while killing Linux in the process. This is a case of a writer demonstrating his lack of information when it comes to the area of computer science. He demonstrated a supreme ignorance of the operating system as have his bosses, his readers and others by suggesting a Linux layer exists in a Windows operating system. Thank you John, how refreshing for you to demonstrate your own lack of knowledge. Rarely do we so easily identify someone with a hand in the cookie jar. (Read on and you can learn for yourself how easily Dvorak could confuse Microsoft's supposed Linux layer for reality.)

John holds no franchise on disinformation. The Board of Sun Microsystems hasn't listened enough to Jonathan Schwartz to catch his potential ineptitude. I wouldn't put Jonathan in the same class as John Dvorak or Darl McBride, but give him a few months,because he's getting there in a hurry.

Sun Microsystems Board may need a dose of operational reality since the spin factor has gotten out of hand. In fact, the audit committee may need to review some issues and if those concerns seem warranted, put a gag order in place before further briefings of industry analysts. With industry analysts issuing “a caution” to its clients on Sun Microsystems, things may not be as rosy as Jonathan wants everyone to believe.

Let's put a caveat in place before any one gets litigious: We're not making any accusations of wrong doing. We're asking questions we believe Sun's management should ask and answer if they want the company to stay relevant. We have to know if we have accepted representations in good faith before we ask our clients and associates to accept Sun's claims and subsequently their products. Some of Jonathan's facts seem not to sync up.

On 2003-12-29,a China Daily News article reported that

Sun last month reached an agreement to install its Linux desktop software on more than 200 million computers in China.

Under the agreement, China Standard Software Co. -- a consortium of companies supported by the Chinese Government -- will purchase Sun's Java Desktop System. Initially, Sun will roll out 500,000 to 1 million licenses by the end of next year, but that number will likely grow to more than 200 million.

Our first question requires clarification. Did Sun rollout more than 1 million Linux desktops for the China Standard Software Co. and will it roll out as many as 200 million? If not 200 million, in what capacity will Sun act in rolling out the Sun Linux Desktop?

Is the Sun Java Desktop System being rolled out or has Sun licensed its desktop under a separate branding scheme where the distribution is called NeoShine? Is this the same Linux distribution offered in the US with SUSE Linux used as the Linux base? (Hint: Sun may actually just be an adviser to the companies rolling out Linux and a Chinese distribution may exist under the the JDS desktop. That doesn't mean the desktop you buy in North America is the same as the one in China.)

In Government Computer News, a recent article entitled "Sun targets Red Hat, not Microsoft", Johnathan Schwartz replies to this question:

What is Sun’s Linux strategy?

SCHWARTZ: "You mean what is our Red Hat strategy? My belief will be that there will be more systems running Linux next year than ever before. They will run wristwatches, set-top boxes, embedded systems, network equipment. It will be everywhere. And there will be no one Linux, because the diversity of Linux in the client world will correlate to the diversity of clients. And that diversity is a good thing. It creates lots of competition."

"Now in the data center, diversity is not a good word. Most businesses can’t afford the diversity. Many of our Wall Street customers write a bunch of Linux applications. In fact some of them write their own Linux distributions. Then they go to an [independent software vendor] and say “I need you to write your application to my operating system.” The ISV will say “No, we only support Red Hat stuff.” So what is happening to Linux in the data center is that the market has tipped to one company, which now has raised prices and basically presented a very proprietary operating system, called Red Hat Enterprise Linux. "

If you can follow Jonathan's remark, one has to ask, is he suggesting that Red Hat doesn't fit in the data center but Solaris does? Is he jealous that the industry has tipped to one company and that it was not his? Further, is he saying the industry made a mistake?

We also have to ask if he has implied by misdirection that Sun has some involvement in Linux clients running on all the platforms he mentioned? If so, which clients? We know of no client initiatives in which Sun has involvement in anything but their Java(tm) Desktop System – a combination of GNOME and SUSE's Linux Enterprise Server.

Following the Government Computer News article, Jonathan continues by saying:

So now, if you look at volume x86 platforms, there are only three OSes to pick from—Windows, Red Hat and Solaris. The good news is Sun owns one. The bad news is that Dell doesn’t own one, HP doesn’t own one and IBM doesn’t own one. They may have to acquire one.

The most interesting thing about Linux, aside from the social movement aspect, is the fact that it is the first Unix to run on x86. So we put Solaris on the x86. Now we have well over a million licenses of Solaris running on Intel and on the AMD Opteron.

So, when we talk to a customer and they say they have a bunch of Linux applications, we say we can run them natively, with no modifications, on Solaris 10.

Here we have to ask for the board to clarify the statement of whether or not the only x86 operating systems available are Windows, Red Hat and Solaris. If this statement is false, then what degree of deception does it involve? Further, Linux is not UNIX and it definitely was not the first UNIX operating system to run on the x86 platform. Those that did include Xenix, UnixWare, AT&T, FreeBSD and the earlier Sun versions. All are older and predate Linux. Perhaps they predate Jonathan's knowledge of history. Does it make you question his grasp of the situation?

In the same GNC article Schwartz says "HP has largely end-of-lifed HP-UX, because it doesn’t run on x86." One more time, we want to know if that represents an accurate statement, because according to a highly placed member of the HP staff:

Absolutely not. No way, no how.

We are phasing out the pre merger DEC Tru-64, but merging the feature set with HP-UX.

Finally, we have some other concerns about Mr. Schwartz implied statements. Here's a short list:

What percent of the project is actually made up of members of the Solaris team? And, does that constitute a community of developers or has Sun simply populated their so called community with Sun paid employees so that it looks like the broader open-source developers have embraced the project? "

Does Solaris10 with the Java (tm) Desktop System (JDS) run on Sun Ray servers and if so does Sun offer it as an official product offering?

Which version of JDS runs on the Sun Ray and when will you cease marketing it?

What percent of Sun's infrastructure actually runs Linux internally?

Did Sun roll out JDS Linux internally as described or did Sun only offer it to Laptop users? Which version does Sun use?

How many laptops and desktops continue to use Microsoft and Apple Mac OS X instead of JDS?

What do you use on your desktop and laptop, Jonathan Schwartz? Do you use Linux? What do you actually know about Linux? Are you judging Linux from some ivory tower and declaring it a social movement as if your pronoucements represent some form of authority?

What Purpose Does Disinformation Serve?

As a consultant and writer focused on Linux, I contend with a massive amount of false information promulgated by members of the press as well as companies themselves. Over the years, I have attempted to point out some foolish claims in my articles. In the mean time, people continue to grind out seriously flawed content about Linux and those who do not know the difference accept it.

The pure Linux companies like Red Hat appear to know better than to allow the Jonathan Schwartz's of the world to drag them into a propaganda war. Red Hat, for example, would lose focus and stop delivering. Ultimately, Red Hat's ability to deliver separates it from Sun. That's why Red Hat looks like the eventual winner in the OS wars.

Sun runs a major risk when it comes to competing with Linux. They run the same risk that UnixWare and OpenUNIX ran. Ultimately, those platforms became irrelevant. Solaris cannot compete with Linux and all the denial in the world will not change that. Sun's efforts to convince people otherwise will not change that either. Eventually, Solaris will end up as a niche player like AIX and HP UX.

Many Linux users were thrilled when Sun announced Mad Hatter – its Linux desktop. As time has passed, however, a lack of commitment by Sun to Linux has resulted in floundering sales, customer disillusionment, a falloff in product relevance and finally a mixup when it comes to running Linux on core Sun infrastructure products.

Unless something has changed radically in the last few hours, Sun's older JDS Linux runs on the Sun Ray but the newer version does not. Even Solaris10 cannot offer the JDS desktop to Sun Ray users. The Sun Ray server runs on Solaris 9 – Sparc Edition with the older GNOME 1.4 desktop. It does not run on Solaris10 and it does not run on Solaris x86.

When a customer asks for the “alternative” desktop to Microsoft Windows, Sun sales and partners use that as an opening to offer a Sun change in infrastructure. But do clients really want Sun's change? Most want to keep their Microsoft infrastructures while replacing the desktop with Linux. Sun does not offer that solution.

So while Jonathan Schwartz's disinformation brings him headlines and sales leads, it ultimately doesn't serve customers who really just want Linux. Analysts will tell you that Sun does not have Linux expertise, has no interest in acquiring Linux expertise and should not buy a Linux company as some have suggested. Those who know the company realize that Sun's DNA is Solaris and they aren't cutting over to Linux - no way, no how. They bought a Linux company once and look what they did to it (Cobalt). Linux is not in Sun's culture and they see no need for it. They would like to kill it, but they won't - especially with Solaris 10.

In the meanwhile, Jonathan has made a lot of enemies in the open source community with his mis-statements about Linux. Basically, Linux guys regard him with utter contempt equaled to the contempt felt toward Daryl McBride. How's that for the COO of a company that keeps downsizing and losing business? Isn't he suppose to be developing goodwill instead of creating enemies? Brilliant eh.

Saying that Solaris 10 runs Linux applications natively possibly has some deception associated with it. You have to ask what the term “natively” means. Sun's Project Janus is the Sun internal code name for technology they have developed that allows people to run Linux applications (binaries) on Solaris without recompiling. Does that mean it runs natively?

According to Sun, Janus enables the Solaris kernel to identify Linux applications on invocation and to recognize and service Linux systems calls. Once the Janus service is activated, users supposedly are able to run their Linux applications on Solaris. When customers use Janus, only one OS instance and one kernel is running. Both Solaris and Linux applications run at the same level on the same operating system instance. Sun feels that this delivers greater efficiencies and resource utilization. Sun also says Janus is part of the Solaris kernel rather than a user level application and therefore performance is increased.

Sun also says that “Janus supports Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3 (RHEL 3). Other Linux distributions may work with Janus, however, initially Sun is providing specific installation scripts for RHEL 3 and will support this Linux distribution on Janus. Sun will support Janus as part of the Solaris OS and standard support contracts”.

Janus raises many questions about Sun's disinformation campaign with regard to Linux and specifically Red Hat. For example, if Red Hat isn't fit for the data center, why has Sun made accommodations to run Red Hat Enterprise Linux applications on Solaris. Also, why do they only support Red Hat and not SUSE or Mandrake or Debian?

When Jonathan says, "So, when we talk to a customer and they say they have a bunch of Linux applications, we say we can run them natively, with no modifications, on Solaris 10" -- he's not quite accurate. Those Linux applications would have to be Red Hat - and as we all know, Red Hat is only one of many distributions of Linux.

Confused? That's what disinformation does – it confuses people and immobilizes them. It spreads information to cause someone to shun one thing for something else. In this case, it exists to make you think that something is wrong with Linux.

Using this information, we can return to John C. Dvorak who does not quite say Microsoft has a similar technology to project Janus but implies something like that. You might consider that a reasonable deduction except for one small detail: Solaris has internals similar to Linux and Microsoft does not. Linux code does not run in the Microsoft kernel nor does it support UNIX application processes like signals, ptys, etc. Still, Dvorak's story seems reasonable to some people who don't know any better.

Many Linux applications run on Windows, but developers ported them to the Win32 specification. You can find that software at the Cygwin web site. Nothing about Cygwin suggests that Windows can run Linux natively.

Final Thoughts

We started this article alluding to writers saying that Linux is in trouble from Sun and Microsoft. Then we added: “in your dreams”. Perhaps those in the know might want to suggest that Sun and Microsoft should consider Linux a real threat and that a popular uprising has occurred and it's spreading in all directions.

Microsoft cannot continue to charge the same prices for its products and continue to exist in its current state. The Redmond company rose to prominence by undercutting prices of dominant software companies. Does anyone think that won't eventually happen to them?

Sun has plenty of rationalizations as to why it keeps having to cut staff and resources. Ultimately, denial and the inability to shift its culture plays some large part. They had the perfect answer when they dialed up the Linux Java Desktop System. But, they did not fulfill the promise. They changed horses in mid-stream and somehow fell for an intoxicating belief in Solaris 10. As we say in my part of the country – that dog won't hunt.

When Jonathan calls Linux a social movement, he must have forgotten his sociology. Linux is an operating system created and supported by people who were tired of being dictated to by proprietary software companies like Sun and Microsoft. Sun's taking their rigid DNA into the community and calling it open-source won't fly. An open-source project requires more than a license and allowing people to download the source code. It requires a commitment to creating a culture of openness.

A sage once said, “Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come”. Unfortunately Solaris' and Microsoft's time have already come and now it's Linux time.

» Read more about: Story Type: LXer Features; Groups: Community, Debian, GNOME, HP, Intel, Kernel, Mandriva, Microsoft, Red Hat, SCO, Sun, SUSE

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Subject Topic Starter Replies Views Last Post
Corrections and comments. number6x 13 2,100 Mar 15, 2005 3:17 PM
Not quite right An_Dochasach 0 1,430 Mar 4, 2005 9:39 AM

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