Enterprise Unix Roundup: A Tale of Four Weblogs

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Oct 1, 2004

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Weblogs may have moved from the techie desktop to the corner office, but sometimes being at the center of the action provides the true insight. The latest Red Hat vs. Sun blogmatch is a prime example. Get the ease of a GUI and the functionality of MySQL with MySQL Administrator.

We remember once making the mistake of not unsubscribing from the Linux kernel mailing list (lkml) when we went on vacation for a week. We came back to a largely melted inbox and the impossible task of sifting through the entire corpus to find some edifying tidbits to pass on.

As recently as four years ago, covering Linux involved knowing which mailing lists to read, and storing a lot of information about unfolding dramas that could slip past if we didn't camp out in our lkml folder.

Like everyone else, we've benefitted from the ever-growing ease with which people can publish their own words in a format more readable than a mailing list archive. Concentrating on key players and developments is much easier this way. Weblogging has simplified that process even more by popularizing RSS, and it has lowered the bar to managing an online journal.

There's a lot of noise about the transformative power of blogs that mistakenly conflates the form (a journal of date-ordered entries, tending toward the informal, that are brief in tone and content) with the technology (the Web), but in all we'd call more people being able to express themselves more easily a salutary trend.

The executive blog had to happen, it was just a matter of time. And, as with the rival blogs of disgruntled armchair policy wonks, executive blogs eventually had to begin to collide.

With a business culture increasingly prizing its ability to project a sense of being on top of trends and a willingness to trade the staid and immovable for flexibility and vanguard tastes, it was inevitable that eventually Weblogs from people other than disgruntled Washington interns, opinionated nerds, and armchair wonks would surface. The executive blog had to happen, it was just a matter of time. And, as with the rival blogs of disgruntled armchair policy wonks, executive blogs eventually had to begin to collide.

Take, for example, the clash of the executives that unfolded between Sun and Red Hat in the past two weeks.

In the Sun corner, company President and COO Jonathan "Just Being Quotable" Schwartz has been spending his idle time thinking up new ways to define the word "open" and novel ways to show Red Hat is actually peddling proprietary software. He's also very good with the links to Sun products. When we get a pitch, we like to be handed a brochure, and Mr. Schwartz is adept at that.

In the Red Hat corner, is Michael Tiemann, "Vice President, Open Source Affairs," who's been focusing less on Red Hat products and more on whether there are just too darn many open source licenses. (He decided there aren't, really, but that kind of there are.)

To the extent Sun hates Red Hat and wants it to die, and to the extent Red Hat wouldn't mind the last defiantly old-school Unix vendor going away, there had to be a celebrity blogmatch.

It came when details of an agreement between Sun and Microsoft came to light: Microsoft gave Sun's StarOffice a pass from patent litigation, but reserved the right to sue OpenOffice license holders for patent infringement. The ensuing rumpus (which got a shot in the arm Wednesday with calls to OpenOffice developers to cease all contribution to the project), pushed the normally congenial (if mildly inflammatory) Schwartz into a snit that included this bit of advice:

Please do not listen to the bizarro numbskull anti-Sun conspiracy theorists. They were lunatics then, they are lunatics now, they will always be lunatics. We love the open source community, we spawned from it.

So it was only appropriate for Red Hat's Vice President of Open Source Affairs to take the opportunity for a shot at his company's chief tormenter. Tiemann rebutted with:

  1. The open source community doesn't do what you ask them to do unless either (a) they trust you, or (b) what you ask them to do fits into some larger goal they've already signed onto. Merely being pathetic doesn't score a whole lotta points, even if you are an executive of a once-great company.
  2. The open source community doesn't really care what you think. You can love them, you can hate them, you can ignore them, even insult them, but what matters at the end of the day is this: What have you done?

"Once-great company." Meow.

There have been attempts to handicap the exchange, but what's the point? Executive blogs are often less about imparting insight or learning what keeps the executive at the keyboard up at night than about projecting a particular image. They're the "casual Friday" of the written word. No one's going to say anything actionable. Weaknesses will most likely be addressed less as a matter of admitting to them and more as a matter of confessional in a convoluted narrative like the one Sun tried to float on Wall Street just last week.

In fact, at the same time Schwartz was calling people "lunatics" and Tiemann was invoking the "community," we were pleased to find a more informative exchange shaping up between actual developers up to their elbows in real code.

Solaris developer Eric Schrock, perhaps tired of the ongoing badmouthing Sun endures at the keyboards of people who don't understand a world beyond Linux, made a reasonable and technically-oriented case for why Sun doesn't give itself over to Linux. He didn't engage in wordplay about the meaning of the words "open" and "proprietary," he just made his case. And he got a response when Linux developer (and IBM employee) Greg Kroah-Hartman rebutted him. The two even took the exchange into extra rounds.

We're willing to set aside pretensions of editorial omniscience long enough to admit that we learned something.

So that's our tale of four Weblogs: Two by executives who had little light to shed on their subjects outside of approaching the concept of the sales pitch with fresh eyes, and two by developers who wanted to comment on the technical substance of the platforms for which they develop.

We know which ones we'll be following.

Eric Schrock's Weblog provides an RSS feed at http://blogs.sun.com/roller/rss/eschrock. Greg Kroah-Hartman's RSS feed may be found at http://www.kroah.com/log/index.rss.

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