LINUXWORLD SAN FRANCISCO AND FURTHER ADVENTURES OF OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE

September 2002

 

Sun Increases Open Source Involvement

The latest edition of the U.S. LinuxWorld Expo seemed to have a heavier large-corporation presence, especially marked by the giant booths of IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun, and Intel. On the other hand the booths of the Linux distribution vendors (such as Red Hat and SuSE) were smaller this time, and most did not even make an appearance. This change shows us how hard it is to make money as a pure Linux business.

Sun Microsystems is moving further into the Linux market, pulled by the demands of its customers in a time when the major gains of Linux are still being made against UNIX, and only to a lesser extent against Windows. President Scott McNeely gave the keynote address, and recounted the participation of Sun in Open Source development: among the projects cited were OpenOffice (now on 11 platforms), Apache, Mozilla, and GNOME, and a clutch of Java-related projects, such as NetBeans, Jakarta, and Tomcat.

McNeely said that it had been a big mistake for Sun to rush ahead so quickly into 64-bit that they left the 32-bit market behind. The company intends to re-occupy this market not with the Sparc chip, but by using Intel and Linux. Sun will sell a new blade server, the LX-50 (http://www.sun.com/emrkt/lx50/), to prevent further erosion of the bottom end of its product line. The server will have dual processors and be available either with Solaris 9 or with a Linux specially tuned by Sun. The software pair mark the return of x86 Solaris and the birth of yet another Linux distribution based on Red Hat.

Meanwhile in Australia...

The new program may be having an effect on the other side of the world from Sun, where the company has signed an agreement worth "hundreds of millions of dollars" with Telstra, the giant telecommunications company (http://www.itnews.com.au/story.cfm?ID=10596). After steady reductions of computing costs over the past few years, Telstra CIO Jeff Smith expects to cut the current annual computing costs of some A$ 1.5b (over US $ 800m) even further. Smith is an admirer of Sunís Scott McNeely, and with this agreement he gives Sun a great victory over Microsoft, the company McNeely loves to hate. The migration from Windows to Linux will cost Microsoft its largest Australian customer.

The project will provide Web services based on Java, and will involve some 45,000 thin-client desktops presently served by Microsoft Windows. Sunís StarOffice will replace Microsoft Office on these machines. Donít forget that Sunís opening gun in the Open Source war against Microsoft was to provide free fully-functional copies of StarOffice; later the source code was made available under an Open Source license (OpenOffice is downloadable at http://www.openoffice.org/).

According to some, the larger movement in Australia away from Microsoft and towards Linux is driven by rising costs and tightening restrictions in Microsoft licensing (http://australianit.news.com.au/articles/0,7204,4931670%5E15306%5E%5Enbv%5E,00.html). Centrelink ABM, an Australian government enterprise that provides Web hosting and services for the Australian government, is also going over to an IBM system, this one running Linux on a mainframe (http://www.ibm.com/news/nz/2002/07/2002070301.html).

But IBM does not intend to be distracted by large customers--it believes that there is a large opportunity in the small and medium business (SMB) market as well (http://www.nwfusion.com/news/2002/0808ibmlinux.html). It is obvious that the companyís 4,600 Linux customers canít all be Fortune 1000 companies. The SMB field is full of Windows companies ripe for migration to Linux systems, and IBM intends to harvest them.

...and at Microsoft

Microsoftís counterattacks in the larger government market, however, have captured more press attention. Besides paying visits to countries that are considering legislation mandating Open Source (or Libre) software and offering them gifts and discounts, (see the August 2002 column), Microsoft is active at home. Recently the City of New Orleans agreed to become a reference site for a large Microsoft implementation (http://www.nola.com/news/t-p/neworleans/index.ssf?/newsstory/o_microsoft16.html). There is no immediate cost to the city, but they will doubtless have to sign up on the License 6.0 plan for annual payments to keep the software licensed and maintained.

Because the transaction ranks as a gift, it could be privately negotiated without the need for competitive bids. The city is supposedly saving US $100m. Microsoft will supply the same software the company developed for Oklahoma, the Offender Data Information System, capable of linking large numbers of police records from different agencies.

Finally, the Microsoft patch/update licensing reported last month has at least one group concerned from a data security standpoint: health care administrators, who are bound by strict laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA, http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/hipaa/) to control access to systems and machines which contain confidential medical records. If Microsoft can enter the systems at any time, who else will figure out how to do it? Does the Microsoft license giving permission for entry to a system invalidate the governmentís certification of the system as secure? It will take a government agency ruling to clear this one up.

But thatís not all: the new license provisions required to apply Microsoft patches have now appeared in Service Pack 3 for Windows 2000, and the mainstream computer press (and not just The Register [http://www.theregister.co.uk/] and Slashdot [http://slashdot.org/]) has picked up the story (http://www.infoworld.com/articles/op/xml/02/08/26/020826opwinman.xml).

Part of the license reads:

You acknowledge and agree that Microsoft may automatically check the version of the OS Product or its components that you are utilizing and may provide upgrades or fixes to the OS Product that will be automatically downloaded to your computer.

Paranoid readers will assume that these OS upgrades or fixes may include the disabling of software not on approved lists (see the August 20002 column), and Open Source fans worry that some of the disapproved products of the future will somehow include Open Source favorites. Only time will tell.

And Back to Sun

Sun continues its schizophrenic relationship with Open Source. Recently it finally allowed contributors to the OpenOffice project to hold their own copyrights on their code while licensing it under the GNU General Public License (formerly they had to turn over their copyrights in order to have their code accepted). But at the same time Sun shows a desire to tighten its proprietary hold on its users. Now for users who want to download the Java 2 Runtime Environment, Standard Edition 1.4.0_01, sun has added to its license Supplemental License Terms that include this language:

5. Notice of Automatic Software Updates from Sun. You acknowledge that the Software may automatically download, install, and execute applets, applications, software extensions, and updated versions of the Software from Sun ("Software Updates"), which may require you to accept updated terms and conditions for installation. If additional terms and conditions are not presented on installation, the Software Updates will be considered part of the Software and subject to the terms and conditions of the Agreement.

6. Notice of Automatic Downloads. You acknowledge that, by your use of the Software and/or by requesting services that require use of the Software, the Software may automatically download, install, and execute software applications from sources other than Sun ("Other Software"). Sun makes no representations of a relationship of any kind to licensors of Other Software. TO THE EXTENT NOT PROHIBITED BY LAW, IN NO EVENT WILL SUN OR ITS LICENSORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOST REVENUE, PROFIT OR DATA, OR FOR SPECIAL, INDIRECT, CONSEQUENTIAL, INCIDENTAL OR PUNITIVE DAMAGES, HOWEVER CAUSED REGARDLESS OF THE THEORY OF LIABILITY, ARISING OUT OF OR RELATED TO THE USE OF OR INABILITY TO USE OTHER SOFTWARE, EVEN IF SUN HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.

The license is available for download. Directions to it are at http://hal.trinhall.cam.ac.uk/~nrs27/java_eula.html, and require you to go first to http://java.sun.com/j2se/1.4/download.html and then to click the download button for the Linux binary version of the Sun ONE Studio 4, Community Edition (formerly Forte for Java 4, Community Edition) - J2SE v1.4.0 Cobundle. Actually, all the downloadable packages listed on the page contain the runtime and therefore link to its license terms cited above.

The provision that Sun can change the license terms at any time in the future is actually not that unusual for service agreements (think of your bank), but it is an unpleasant reminder of how unequal the relationship is between proprietary software vendors and their customers. Open Source software is intended to change all that and strengthen the customerís hand.

As for the provision that Sun will be sending software to your machine without any notice, and running it there, some people believe that this is merely Sunís obscure way of saying that its Java Web Start software will be sending and running applets in the client sandbox, a normal procedure for Java. But there is still that uncanny parallel to the new Microsoft licensing terms.

It does sound as if Sun, like Microsoft, wants to come and go in your computer when it pleases, doing as it pleases, and taking no responsibility for the consequences. Like a poltergeist.

 

 

 

Don Rosenberg will be speaking on The Coming Software Revolution and Collaborative Software Development for Your Business at Bilisim, the Eurasian CeBIT computer show in Istanbul the first week of September (http://www.cebitbilisim.com/en/goruntule.phtml?sayfa_id=173).

 

Copyright © 2002 by Donald K. Rosenberg, Stromian Technologies (http://www.stromian.com)

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