Tech Industry

Red Hat accuses Sun of Microsoft tactics

An executive charges Sun Microsystems with adopting the domineering methods of software giant Microsoft. Sun bridles at the comparison.

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.--Last year, Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik thought Sun Microsystems' open source-based alternative to Microsoft's widely used Office software would encourage broader use of the Linux operating system on desktops and perhaps loosen the iron grip of Windows.

But Szulik abandoned those hopes when Sun started charging for its StarOffice product and changed its way of dealing with the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), such as Red Hat, which can bundle it with their own offerings. Szulik accused Sun of adopting the domineering methods of mutual enemy Microsoft.

Sun, Szulik said in an interview this week, "put the price tag on it and took the Microsoft approach with the OEMs."

Mike Rogers, Sun's general manager for desktop and office-productivity software, bridles at the comparison. "Last time I checked, Microsoft didn't have Office available for $76 and didn't build in the source code," he said in an interview, adding that Sun charges companies such as Red Hat very little for StarOffice, indicating the price could be less than $10 per copy.

In the past, Sun's StarOffice was free to consumers, but the company began charging for the product with the release of version 6. With that version, Sun also started charging companies like Red Hat to bundle the product in their versions of Linux.

That's the change that had to do with Szulik's decision to drop StarOffice from Red Hat's distribution of Linux. "We think there are a variety of alternatives," he said. And that change also inspired the Microsoft comparison.

Microsoft has been known to take advantage of its dominant position with Office software. For example, large corporations formerly could buy PCs with Office bundled at a deep discount to the regular Office price. Microsoft now requires they buy Office separately, which raises the cost.

But Red Hat's strategy with its top-selling Linux product is similar to Sun's with StarOffice, said Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt: Each company packages open-source components into a useful product, then sells it along with a support program.

Sun's Rogers said he'd still like to see Red Hat include StarOffice or the open-source project on which it's based, OpenOffice. Distributing OpenOffice furthers the use of StarOffice file formats and interfaces. Microsoft has successfully used file formats and interfaces to keep its Office suite dominant.

Sun and Red Hat have been allied in their dislike for Microsoft, but circumstances have changed now that Sun is eyeing Red Hat territory.

"Relations between the two companies may be strained by the fact that Sun plans to create and support its own Linux version," Quandt said.

Other Linux sellers, including SuSE and MandrakeSoft, have versions of their products that include StarOffice 6.'s Joe Wilcox contributed to this report.