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Editor's Note: Cause and Effect

Oct 08, 2004, 23:30 (4 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

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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 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.