Enterprise Unix Roundup: An Odd Win for Desktop Linux

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Jul 21, 2005

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Sure, Sun rotated Linux out of its desktop lineup, but that shouldn't stop Linux advocates from declaring victory. Plus: Jetty provides all you need in the way of a lightweight, embedded Web server.

Michael Hall
Amy Newman

A few weeks ago, we relayed the news that Sun was killing the Linux version of its Java Desktop System in favor of a Solaris-based version. That particular piece of news has fueled a few weeks of fretting, once again, over the perennial "Linux on the desktop" theme.

We'd offer that Linux' prospects on enterprise desktops weren't diminished in the least by Sun's news, and may have even been given a boost.

As things stood before Sun repurposed JDS as a Solaris product, you would have been right to wonder what would become of the offering at all. The past two years have seen Sun regroup around Solaris on x86 hardware, nixing internal Linux development and effectively writing off its expensive Cobalt acquisition. It looked, momentarily, like a raging case of NIH (Not Invented Here) may have gripped the company as it worked out its on-again-off-again Linux relationship.

So with JDS surviving the Linux purge and re-emerging as a Solaris product, the "Linux desktop" has effectively spread to two platforms: Linux, the environment in which JDS was initially assembled, and now Solaris, which will host the same desktop environment, browser and office software as Linux used to. While that represents a net loss of total potential Linux desktops out in the wild, it also means software key to Linux' spread on desktops has been effectively endorsed by Sun.

Perhaps there's a wider lesson here, too.

Much of the attention focused on Sun's forays into open source in general — most recently with the release of OpenSolaris — has taken the form of wondering what the competitive effect on Linux has been. We've definitely wandered down that path, focusing on Sun as an aggressor in a community many thought Linux would dominate in terms of mindshare.

However, the same general tolerance Linux advocates have shown to other open source Unixes, such as the BSD family, should apply to Solaris. They may not get to directly reap source code from Solaris, but they can certainly study their competitor much more closely than they could have in the past.

Linux advocates should, instead, declare victory on two key points and get back to work: Sun's endorsed open source, something Linux helped catapult into the popular consciousness. And Linux-oriented developers have been the motivating force behind the bulk of Sun's desktop product. In any other competitive environment, that'd be called "setting the terms."

In Other News

» Two other nuggets from Sun: The company spent last week talking about its long-term SPARC plans: Look for the eight-core "Niagara" chips to arrive early, while Sun works on diversifying its offerings. Gory details here. The company also inked a deal with Interwoven to sell the company's enterprise content management software.

» The buzzing noise you've heard coming out of the Linux guy's cubicle down the row is probably related to a widely reported memo coming out of the SCO/IBM case that indicates SCO found no evidence of direct UNIX source code copying in the Linux kernel. SCO, for its part, says direct copying isn't the only proof of copyright infringement. It also leaves us wondering where all the source code SCO said was directly copied, and which assorted NDA-bound analysts walked out of meetings claiming they'd seen, fits in to the narrative now. The main point to keep in mind, we suppose, is this: This case, which won't be argued in a courtroom until 2007, is SCO's real purpose for existence now. Take that away, and the recent product announcements don't mean an awful lot: If SCO hadn't been getting killed on that front, perhaps the suit might not have seemed so attractive.

» When Novell acquired SUSE, it raised a few questions about what would become of SUSE's mainframe competencies, fostered during a period when the company was working closely with IBM to take advantage of Big Blue's push on virtualized Linux. It looks like that part of the SUSE model has remained intact, though, as Novell has announced its "Strategic Enterprise Agreement for Linux" (SEAL). The program will allow SUSE users to migrate their SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 installations to eSeries systems without having to renegotiate their licenses. The company says the move is designed to ease migration from Windows or Linux on platforms besides IBM's.

» The Hardware Today Fujitsu server snapshot offers an overview of a company moving out from its Solaris/SPARC base to make plays in the Linux and Windows space with new Itanium offerings.

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