Enterprise Unix Roundup: Sending Microsoft a Message

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Sep 16, 2004

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By pulling its support for Microsoft's Sender ID for E-Mail specification, AOL — whether it means to or not — is following the lead of the open source community. Plus, Sun's ongoing plans to open Solaris ... and be ready for trouble with Linux on your keychain.

In an update last week we noted that opposition to Microsoft's Sender ID for E-Mail specification was beginning to harden as the Apache Software Foundation and Debian Project both announced they would refuse to implement it. The objections came as the result of Microsoft's insistence on patenting elements of the technology behind the specification and growing concern over encumbering a key piece of Internet infrastructure with patented technology.

The thing that clearly slowed down the Sender ID for E-Mail adoption process was concerns about software patents and the threat they represent to the commons that is the Internet
A variety of responses emerge whenever the nettlesome issues of patents and standards come up. One chip Microsoft's always had to play was the overwhelming complacency its market dominance engenders in bystanders, coupled with unease or outright hostility toward the moralistic language open-source crusaders often use when describing their opposition to Microsoft's embrace-extend-exclude tactics.

So we were a little surprised to note that after a few months of a moderate amount of public attention and a growing amount of noise about Microsoft's unwillingness to remove all strings from Sender ID for E-Mail, one of the biggest names on the list of its proponents backed out, saying that the non-patent-encumbered Sender Policy Framework (SPF) will have to do.

America Online spokespeople say the company's decision is less over the open source community's resistance to the technology and more about concerns regarding its implementation. What the decision represents, though, is a critical setback for Microsoft, which evidently hoped to muscle through the standards process over the objections of a community that provides some of the most credible and widely used alternatives to Microsoft's own mail server software.

AOL might be waving its hands over assorted RFCs and "technical concerns," but the thing that clearly slowed down the Sender ID for E-Mail adoption process was concerns about software patents and the threat they represent to the commons that is the Internet: Score one for the open source and free software community for raising the alarm.

Untangling Red Hat from Open Source

Maybe we should say score two, because another bit of open source-related news (or at least noise) came from Sun this week, as the company begins to firm up its commitment to opening the source to Solaris 10.

Reports remain fuzzy, though. The company hasn't decided how it will license Solaris, the project Web site (opensolaris.org) is still dark as of this writing, and no one's sure how the source will be offered, or with what strings attached.

We're resistant to passing this along as "news," exactly, because Sun's been going about the process of opening Solaris for months. In June we called the plans "pixie dust", less because we didn't believe they'd do it, and more because we don't believe in the availability of source as some sort of magical enhancer of value.

What "embracing" open source does do, however, is at least make a company look vaguely progressive and friendly toward something a lot of people associate with positive words like "sharing" and "open." Sun needs that aura as it walks the fine line between pushing its own products and figuring out how to smash Red Hat. As Sun schemes, Red Hat is steadily building its portfolio to offer the same sort of functionality, service and overall brand reputation Sun's known — only without being part of a hardware deal. Red Hat doesn't sell complete systems, it sells software. In a price war, it could take Sun, still largely perceived as vulnerable and perhaps a little adrift, well below a comfortable margin.

If you've wondered what all the wordplay about "openness" coming from Jonathan "Just Being Quotable" Schwartz is about lately, consider that. Sun's envious of Red Hat's mindshare, leery of the problems that come from tangling with Linux in the abstract, and eager to pick off the largest Unix/Linux player that isn't tied to one of its hardware competitors.

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