Red Hat exec takes Sun to task on open source

Michael Tiemann criticizes software rival Sun for its support of patents and for keeping Java proprietary.

A top Red Hat executive has attacked the open-source credentials of its sometime business partner Sun Microsystems.

In a Web log posting Thursday, , Red Hat's vice president of open-source affairs, criticized Sun for its support of software patents and its decision to keep Java a proprietary software.

"If you won't open-source Java , you won't take the right positions on software patents, and you keep doing things that benefit nobody but Microsoft, why should (we) trust what you ask us to do?" Tiemann asked Sun President Jonathan Schwartz .

Michael Tiemann

Tiemann wrote in response to a Schwartz blog posting from earlier in September addressed to the OpenOffice.org community, in which the vocal executive advised: "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. We'll protect that community, that innovation, and our place in it, with all our heart and energy."

Though Sun sells Red Hat's version of Linux on its servers based on Xeon and Opteron chips, it has the Raleigh, N.C.-based rival in its crosshairs. "We are absolutely targeting Red Hat specifically ," Schwartz said earlier this week.

Sun derided Tiemann's posting. "It's gratifying to know that Tiemann is a regular reader, but he's just using his Web postings as a marketing vehicle to take theater to the next level," spokesman Noel Hartzell said. "Sun is more than happy to address specific concerns, but we're not going play them out through the media. If people want to address them directly, let's talk about them like civilized business folks."

Tiemann, a pioneer in building a business around open-source software, joined Red Hat in 1999, when the Linux seller acquired his company, Cygnus Solutions . Red Hat has steadfastly produced only open-source software, in contrast to other Linux backers, such as IBM and Novell.

Sun has made major open-source moves, such as releasing its StarOffice competitor to Microsoft Office as the open-source OpenOffice . The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also plans to make its prized Solaris operating system open-source software by the end of the year. At the same time, it keeps other packages, such as its Java Enterprise System server software, proprietary.

Tiemann said that to the open-source community, actions speak louder than words. He suggested that Sun isn't doing enough to support the collaborative programming philosophy.

"Would you promise that any open-source developer can use any of your patents in open-source code without fear of a lawsuit from you?" Tiemann asked. "Would you create a fund to defend open-source developers against the predatory practice of other patent holders? Would you put your financial muscle and lobbying credibility behind fighting software patents--something our community universally hates because it threatens our ability to innovate?"

One trigger of Tiemann's complaint is an April agreement between Sun and Microsoft that settled lawsuits between the companies. According to a patent agreement, signed in April and filed this month with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Microsoft agreed not to sue Sun for patent infringement in OpenOffice but didn't extend the same agreement to OpenOffice licensees.

"You get what you negotiate for. Sun is showing us they care not at all...about the OpenOffice.org community," Tiemann said in an interview. Sun should have secured such protection, a move that would have paralleled IBM's pledge not to launch patent attacks against the Linux kernel , he said.

"Does IBM know where the Linux kernel is going in the future? No. But they gave an open-ended commitment to provide safe harbor. You'd think with billions of dollars flowing (from Microsoft to Sun), Sun would be able to get a better deal (for) the open-source community," Tiemann said.

Tiemann began his blog in August, but "This is the first time where I felt compelled to respond to Schwartz," he said.

Tiemann had been Red Hat's chief technology officer for years, but he moved into the open-source lobbying and ambassador position several months ago.

"His new role reflects what his interests are, where his top strengths lie. We wanted him to make as much impact as possible," spokeswoman Leigh Day said. For technical leadership, "Right now, we feel like we have our bases covered with three vice presidents of engineering in place."

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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