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Editor's Note: The Smaller the Cage...

Embrace and Extend

  • March 16, 2000
  • By Kevin Reichard

Penguinistas by and large are a stubborn group. Overall, this trait has been a good thing: you don't stare down a big corporation like Microsoft and prevail without having a fairly prominent streak of stubbornness.

Sometimes, however, this stubbornness manifests itself in some fairly unattractive ways. There's a certain kind of penguinista who is fairly exclusionary of who can play in the Linux sandbox--exclusionary to the point where only the truest of the true believers are allowed entry.

This holier-than-thou has manifested itself recently in the form of pointed comments made about the appropriateness of Sun Microsystems and SCO being embraced as participants in the Linux field.

While neither company has been the most fervent of open-source advocates, the fact is that both companies have made significant strides in embracing the open-source spirit on some level. Sun will be releasing the source code to Forte for Java, Community Edition 1.0, its cross-platform integrated development environment (IDE) for Java technology, under the Mozilla license model. Similarly, SCO has announced plans to better support Linux through its reseller network and has released Tarantella, its noteworthy Web-server-management tool, in a Linux version.

OK, so these aren't the most scintillating examples of Linux support; SCO isn't even releasing Tarantella as open-source technology, and Sun didn't exactly pick its most popular product for release as open source. (Indeed, one wonders if it would have released Forte as open source had Kylix not been hovering on the horizon.)

Still, instead of ripping Sun and SCO for not doing enough, we should be applauding their first baby steps into the open-source world and encourage them to do more. Shun these products and it's highly unlikely that Sun and SCO will do more in the near future supporting open source and Linux. Instead, we should speak out and support of these projects and let both companies know how viable the open-source community really is.

And, in the defense of the more fervid penguinistas, Sun and SCO partially brought on these problems. Sun Microsystems did a pretty poor job of supporting Java on Linux, acting as a roadblock to attempts by the Blackdown Group to port Java to Linux. Similarly, SCO has spent years bad-mouthing Linux, and many in the Linux community are distrustful of SCO's attempts to enter the Linux market. Both companies are working to protect their bread-and-butter offerings (Solaris and SCO UNIX).

Unfortunately, these are not new issues. Many of us have witnessed flame wars between GNU apostles who have taken aim at various open-source licenses (Mozilla, BSD). Similarly, we've seen some shots between Linux and BSD adherents.

The bottom line: instead of ripping companies for not being sufficiently committed to open source and Linux, we should cheer on all efforts toward open sourcedom and encourage further progress. Otherwise, the open-source world will shrink to the point where a small and rabid group spends most of its time on in-fighting--and we all know that the smaller the cage the fiercer the fight.

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