by John Wolley, Linux Today Silicon Valley correspondent
From a phone conversation with Miles Barel, IBM's program
director for Unix marketing
SAN JOSE, California, January 28, 2000 - Several months after
the first stories surfaced that Sun was planning to 'open up'
Solaris 8, the details were finally announced this past Wednesday.
Those details began leaking a week earlier, so reaction to Sun's
move has been coming in steadily over the past week. There seems to
be a fairly broad consensus that Sun is attempting to head off
erosion of its server market share, from Windows 2000 at the high
end and from Linux on the low end (CNET 1/00, ZDNet 1/00).
Opinion as to the impact on Linux is divided, with Bruce Perens
believing, "This will be a tremendous shot in the arm for Linux",
and IBM calling it "an effort to distract the Linux community"
(both quotes from Red Herring
IBM is a Sun competitor that's going after Sun's market--high
end, low end, and middle--with its RS6000 product line (Linux Today 9/99)
and recently expanded support for Linux across its entire server
product line (CNET 1/00, PC Week 1/00,
1/00). We asked Miles Barel, IBM's program director for Unix
marketing, to comment on the Sun's new licensing and pricing
strategy for Solaris 8.
Sun's agenda is anything but open
As many others have noted since Sun's announcement (see Related stories below), Barel thinks Sun's Solaris 8
program is anything but open. "My guess is that if you order it
[the source code], you won't get the whole system--you wouldn't be
able to compile your own working operating system", said Barel.
Why?--the third-party code in Solaris that Sun has licensed but
does not own. Sun may have gotten around this by
negotiating agreements with the owners of those pieces of code, and
that may be what has shaped the licensing terms that led Sun to
avoid the use of the term 'open' in their big announcement
1/00)--the $75 'media charge' and the requirements that (a)
changes made in the source must maintain compatibility with the
'standard' Solaris version and (b) can only be redistributed via an
agreement with Sun that 'may involve royalties' (SRO 1/00).
In Barel's view, "open source is about the industry driving the
development of industry standards". Elaborating on 'the industry',
Barel indicated that he was using the term much the way that open
source people use the term 'the open source community', or 'the
Linux community', in the broadest sense: In addition to
the open source developers, he's including users, commercial
vendors, and anyone else who wants to actively participate.
What Sun is doing is more like riding on the popularity of the
open source concept in order to promote what essentially remains
its own proprietary, tightly controlled standard. Barel stressed
that the Solaris source code is 'free', neither in the sense of
'free beer' nor in the sense of 'free code'.
IBM considered open sourcing AIX
Barel said that IBM had given serious consideration to the idea of
open sourcing its proprietary Unix code, AIX. "IBM looked at
all the trade-offs involved in making AIX code available and
concluded that it would just confuse the market." Barel
believes this is exactly what will happen as a result of Sun's
opening up Solaris. He even goes so far as suspecting that this
may be precisely Sun's objective, in hopes of slowing the
growth of Linux at Sun's expense. The 'Lintel value
proposition'--the combination of the license-free Linux OS with
relatively cheap Intel PCs--is generally considered to be as much
of a threat to Sun's low-end hardware market as it is to
Microsoft's OS sales.
Instead IBM chose to give AIX code to Linux
IBM concluded that a far better strategy than open sourcing AIX
would be to contribute key parts of the AIX code to the Linux
development team (PC Week 1/00,
1/00). Which parts? "We'll work with the Linux kernel
development team to determine exactly which parts they can really
use," said Barel. IBM will leave it to the Linux kernel team to
make the announcements about which parts of IBM's offer they decide
to accept and their timeframe for implementation. "We don't want to
raise false expectations" by giving out more details now.
Where will IBM draw the line?
Assuming that IBM were offering the Linux kernel team
anything they wanted from the AIX code (which isn't
exactly what anyone at IBM has said)--wouldn't that let Linux
leapfrog ahead to parity with AIX? Not in Barel's opinion. "The
maturity of an operating system [like AIX] takes many years to
develop." The Linux team wants to continue to develop Linux, not
turn it into 'open AIX'. By allowing the Linux team to borrow
pieces of AIX code that they can easily integrate into Linux, and
by supporting the Trillian project to port Linux to Intel's 64-bit
chips, IBM can promote the development of a more robust Linux that
they can support on their server line. Linux development
will be greatly accelerated, but meanwhile AIX development
will continue as well.
Sun, Linux, and IBM
Barel observes that "Sun has consistently said over the past few
years that they're only interested in one thing, and that's Solaris
on Sparc." According to Barel, IBM long ago learned that 'one size
fits all' doesn't work, and sees that as even more true today. To
IBM, 'e-business' is a huge collection of components running on
different platforms. IBM's big strength, the major value that it
offers its customers in the internet age, is their skills at
"putting all the pieces together and making it work".
IBM is firmly committed to Linux as a cornerstone of their
internet and e-business strategy, reiterated Barel. "We believe
that Linux is the future of the internet. The internet has been
based on open technology. Linux is one of the core technologies
that will drive the future evolution of the 'net." From IBM's
perspective, "It's in everyone's interest to promote Linux."
BTW: AIX had the 'new' Solaris features 2-3 years
While we were talking about the Linux aspects of the Solaris 8
announcement, Barel was quick to point out that most of the new
features appearing in Solaris 8 had been added to AIX two or three
years ago--for example:
Hot upgrades--the ability to upgrade the operating system
without shutting down the computer
IP version 6--the 'next generation' internet protocol
Clustering up to eight systems--AIX has supported clustering of
up to 32 systems for some time
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