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Editor’s Note: Cause and Effect

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

So, this weekend I am heading off to my 15th annual college
reunion. I am looking forward to the trip, in that I will be seeing
some old friends and visiting memories of days gone by. You know,
sentimentality and all that. If this seems facetious, it’s not: as
many of my friends will tell you, I am a bit of a softie.

My college experience was a good one. Besides my degree in
Physics, I picked up my wife in the deal. I think the latter was
the better end of the bargain.

My college even affected the history of this site: I met Michael
Hall, the previous editor of LT, at this school. He later worked
for me at a small-town newspaper in Indiana, and then I recommended
him to the Powers that Be as a freelancer for Internet.com. He got
hired on full time, became my boss, and the rest is LT
history.

But going down memory lane is not my main intention this week:
my focus is on connections. My college days is an example of how
connections in life can affect seemingly unrelated outcomes. I am a
big believer in the “butterfly flapping its wings in Tokyo, Madonna
gets a new hit record” effect.

A lot of fuss has been made about all the Red Hat/Sun vitriol
that has been bandied about the last couple of weeks. Sun, we have
learned, has apparently banded together with Microsoft to knock off
the Great and Terrible Red Hat. Red Hat is portraying itself as the
innocent–unfairly attacked by Horrible and Hoary Hosts of the
West.

Like most spin, there is probably some truth on both sides of
this fight, and some distortions. With so many people focused on
this, I will not add my opinion to one side or the other again. I
did that last week.

I will, however, question the timing of this barrage from Sun.
Whether they have a point or not, I wonder about the sequence of
events that led up to this brouhaha.

“Brian, Brian. Poor, sweet, innocent Brian,” some of you may
say, “It’s clearly the settlement between Sun and Microsoft that
led up to this.”

Ah, poor I may be. And perhaps sweet. But innocent? Step off,
Jack. The settlement was, indeed, the most recent precipitator of
this scuffle. But what, I ask, suddenly brought the settlement to a
conclusion?

Finances were certainly a part of it. Sun was, and still is, not
in the best of financial shape. Getting the air cleared with
Redmond would certainly be a fiscal windfall. But what was the
incentive for bringing Microsoft to the table? Was it, as Scott
McNealy implies, a deep need to whack Red Hat?

Almost. While Red Hat is the primary target, I think the thorn
that really got Microsoft to jump hard was none other than little
old Novell.

The connection here is simple. Novell, while nowhere near the
Linux strongman as Red Hat (yet), as the potential to take SUSE and
Ximian and create a huge momentum of open source deployments in a
lot of channels. As long as Red Hat alone was the Big Commercial
Linux Player, Microsoft did not have a lot to worry about. The
standard FUD (“they’re weird, commie-types”) would not work against
Novell. People have heard of Novell. They have used Novell. And,
for better or worse, people will associate the term “software” and
“networking” with Novell way ahead of even companies like IBM
(where “hardware” might jump to mind first).

Novell has SUSE, which has a very well put-together enterprise
server, complete with an Exchange-killer. They also have Ximian,
which has a very nice PIM/messaging client and Mono–a direct
competitor with .Net, if anyone can ever figure out what to do with
.Net technology.

And, perhaps worst of all, Novell has enough legacy ties with
UNIX to potentially throw the SCO v. IBM suit out the window. Not
that Microsoft actually orchestrated that battle, but hey,
let’s face it, they aren’t sorry to see it happen.

When Novell started moving and shaking last year, it brought
energy to commercial Linux. And, worst of all for Microsoft and
Sun, it brought momentum. A commercial Linux market led by Red Hat
was one thing. A hyped-up growing market backed up by Novell was
quite another.

Coming to this conclusion was brought about by something rather
simple: for all of Sun’s Red Hat bashing, I could not for the life
of me figure out why they were discounting Novell. And Mandrake. I
realize Red Hat has got a lion’s share of the commercial Linux
market, but to ignore them completely? That seemed rather odd.
Maybe there’s a connection, I thought.

Ignoring other commercial distros is a bit short-sighted. Of
course, so is singling out Red Hat and expecting the rest of the
Linux and Open Source community to stand idly by and watch it
happen. After all, people might be disgruntled with Red Hat, but it
is, after all, Linux, and I believe Sun may have made a bit of
miscalculation in hoping that any enmity against Red Hat would
reward Sun in this tussle.

That, my friends, is an outcome we will have to wait to see.