Enterprise Unix Roundup: Back in the Closet With the Cape

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Apr 8, 2004

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Late last week, Sun and Microsoft made nice by wrapping up some litigation and agreeing to make their products more interoperable. Has the battle for an OS paradigm ended in a draw? Also, while investigating BBEdit we stumbled on shell worksheets, which offers a way to bring the command line world to your GUI habitat.

There's nothing like battling paradigms to keep the tech industry interesting. The great battle of our time is between "The Unix Way" and the encroaching Windows hordes (or, if you're part of the horde, "Mean, bitter old Unix bigots vs. we simple folk"). Late last week, a compelling pair of antagonists left this battlefield: Sun and Microsoft decided to make nice by wrapping up some litigation and agreeing to make their products more interoperable.

It was a scene right out of the Cold War: Steve Ballmer and Scott McNealy exchanged hockey jerseys, and Bill Gates visited Sun's headquarters during negotiations (like Nixon going to China! or Kruschev at Disneyland!). We also hear Sun might be wearing Microsoft's class ring around campus. It's as if Superman and Lex Luthor have gone into business together.

There's much pondering going on about what's involved in the deal, but with the ink on the deal still wet, we believe it's too soon to tell. Sun is going to certify some of its gear for Windows, to go with similar efforts on its Java Enterprise System. There's also an implied promise on Scott McNealy's part to drop the apocalyptic rhetoric about Microsoft, and Microsoft is promising to license the Sun technology it uses. The interoperability pledge came with few details, and the technologies the companies have agreed to license from each other (which have yet to even be announced) seem less important than the pointed celebration of patent ownership.

That vagueness is lending credence to the theory that the issue isn't so much Sun deciding to not hate Microsoft anymore as it is about both companies agreeing that one way to inoculate themselves against the ravages of Linux and open source software in general is to push patent-based technologies as a way to tie networks together.

As simple of a motive as this is, Occam's Razor doesn't favor that over explanations like "Litigation costs a lot of money; Sun's in trouble to the tune of $800 million in losses this quarter; and Microsoft just doesn't need the headaches."

But back to the paradigms battlefield: Who is left to carry the torch for the Unix Way? Some will leap to say "IBM," to which we must reply, "Ha!" Sure, IBM champions Linux pretty heavily, but it lacks the crusading purity with which Sun dogged Microsoft for so many years. For one thing, IBM has an obvious revenge motive when it goes after Microsoft that dates back to the betrayal and fall of OS/2. For another, IBM hates Microsoft provisionally, in the way hardware companies are wont to hate software companies -- temperately, and with an eye on the bottom line.

Put another way, if Sun is Superman choosing to dine with Lex Luthor, IBM is a passive-aggressive Batman, mainly battling "evil" when he's not in the same room at the party, or when he's not preloading evil onto every laptop and desktop he sells.

Having stretched our metaphor a bit too far (the only evil we typically attribute to Microsoft is Clippy), we'll retreat momentarily to wonder if, at the risk of being forced to turn in our "suspender wearing Unix bigot" decoder rings, the Paradigm War has ended in a draw. For the moment.

In Other News

» Sun did the executive shuffle this week: Jonathan "we do not believe that Linux plays a role on the server, period" Schwartz was promoted to president and COO, while Sam "that's about being quotable" Loiacono was promoted to executive VP of software.

» Call it Pundit's Remorse: Last week we wondered if EV1 Servers, SCO's high-profile licensee, wasn't suffering from buyer's remorse. After all, its CEO said he wouldn't buy the licenses again. Then along came Netcraft, with a contradiction of some Web-board mutterings we read around: EV1 actually picked up 32,000 host names in March despite calls to boycott it. So the point of the CEO's comments seems to be less about "licensing with SCO destroyed our business" and more "We just want people to stop being mean to us."

» Speaking of SCO, Red Hat's suit against the company is, for the moment, on hold. The judge said a decision can wait until SCO and IBM are done with their own scuffle, some time in 2005.

» And speaking of Red Hat, Progeny announced it will take over security support of Red Hat Linux 9, which will be end-of-lifed at the end of this month, as Red Hat moves to emphasize its enterprise product line.

» A Forrester study on the relative merits of open source software vs. proprietary software (well, Windows actually) provoked a cry of "foul!" from Debian, Mandrake, Red Hat, and SUSE, which maintain the study ignored several factors, including the relative priority security fixes get, the nature of reported potential exploits, and the large number of packages the average Linux distribution includes, not all of which are used by a given user. (An example of that last item being the presence of sendmail, exim, and postfix in most distributions. Few people use three MTAs, but the presence of all three effectively triples a simple nose count of bugs.)

» Another sign that the XFree license change was taken seriously manifested in the form of the X.org Foundation releasing its own X11 server to provide an alternative to XFree's.

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