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IBM + Sun: Bad for FOSS?

IBM + Sun: Bad for FOSS?

When word leaked out that IBM was considering acquiring Sun Microsystems, the open source blogosphere began to buzz. Opinions were strong and well-reasoned on both sides of the question of whether open source in general will benefit from the move.

By Katherine Noyes
03/23/09 4:00 AM PT

An assortment of topics made for interesting conversation on the Linux blogs in the past few days, not the least of which was the collection of video contestants that have been posted for the Linux Foundation's "I'm Linux" contest.

Close to 100 entries were received in the contest -- now called "We're Linux" -- and all are available for viewing and voting on the contest's official site. Some are wacky, some artistic; if you haven't already, go check them out!

Bloggers on Slashdot, Computerworld , LXer and others, not surprisingly, have had a field day analyzing them and contributing their two cents.

'404 File Not Found'

"I find this situation to be a very fitting analogy to the computing world as a whole," wrote Anonymous Coward on Slashdot. "Apple does something that gets attention. Microsoft makes their cheap knockoff of it. Then the OSS/Linux guys come along and say, 'Hey, we can do that, too!'"

Then again: "Hi, I'm linux and the load on my server is getting very h," quipped Bastard of Subhumani. "404 file not found."

Many of the videos submitted are "wonderful," blogger Robert Pogson told LinuxInsider. "Some need a bit of polish for the mainstream, but the message is clear that there is a better way to do IT."

By the end of 2009 "there should be few on the planet who have not seen some technological magic wrought through GNU/Linux, whether it is a cellular telephone, some gadget, a netbook, desktop PC or notebook," Pogson added. "With so many millions of these out there, the world can see that that other OS is not the Holy Grail of computing."

TomTom: Right Back Atcha!

Other news making waves in the blogosphere was word on Thursday that TomTom -- the target of Microsoft's much-discussed lawsuit -- has now shot back with a suit of its own, also claiming patent infringement.

Can you believe that? Never a dull moment, that's for sure.

Bloggers on Slashdot jumped right on that one with more than 100 comments in just a few hours.

IBM and Sun

The biggest news of all in the past few days, however, would have to be reports suggesting that IBM might be considering acquiring Sun. Originally reported in The Wall Street Journal, the topic soon found its way onto LXer and Digg, among many others.

Opinions on the wisdom of such a move -- should it happen -- were highly varied, as were perspectives on the implications.

"IBM buying Sun is interesting because of the long history of both firms," Pogson said. "Sun has had difficulty moving from SPARC/Solaris, but they have good will in many areas of FLOSS: OpenSolaris, OpenOffice.org, Java, MySQL.

"It will be good for everyone to have the future of these technologies more certain," he added. "IBM may be conflicted with AIX/Solaris, etc., but that can be worked out, and IBM has been very pragmatic in giving their customers what they want."

'Java Will Fare Better'

Such a deal could work well, Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack agreed.

"While Sun has more projects under open source licenses, IBM is better at managing open source projects," Mack told LinuxInsider. "IBM is also a lot more experienced at finding alternate ways of making money from open source projects."

In addition, "I suspect that Java will fare better as a standard under IBM's banner," he added.

'A Strategic Move'

"There's a strong back and forth on the posts there," Monochrome Mentality blogger Kevin Dean told LinuxInsider. "I have to wonder if the criticism of Sun as a FOSS (but not community-driven) player isn't spilling over."

Sun and IBM both leverage platforms that aren't based on "the Intel architecture that seems to be everywhere," Dean noted. "This alone should be a HUGE indication that perhaps this deal is actually a strategic move by IBM rather than a last-ditch effort by Sun to up their value" -- as some have suggested.

Both companies "have made their fortunes and established their customer base using open source software that 'goes anywhere,'" Dean added. "Open source itself is a reaction to monopoly, oligopoly and monoculture, so it seems to make sense that the same kind of 'not Intel' sentiment might exist in the hardware realm."

Of course, any acquisition of Sun by IBM would reduce the number of players in that market, "which sort of defeats the purpose," he pointed out -- "unless, of course, there's some unnatural enemy. Microsoft wielding patent law like a cudgel might just fit that description ..."

Benefits of Consolidation

Particularly in light of the TomTom lawsuit, "the Linux ecosystem has been churning; good or bad, it's making some people uneasy," Dean added. "Realistically, this deal would have been in the works long before that lawsuit leaked, but the reasoning still holds strong: IBM beefs up its Linux-based patent/copyright portfolio with this purchase but also, if the stuff hits the fan, it picks up a non-Linux FOSS operating system REMARKABLY suited to the needs of IBM itself."

Consolidation might also be a good thing in general, Dean noted.

"It's been happening for a few years in the Linux marketplace, though people seem not to be noticing," he explained. "I suspect that another possibility IBM is looking at isn't 'ending competition' between Solaris and Linux, but the opposite: a re-licensing of Solaris's code so that things like ZFS can be leveraged on IBM's Linux offerings or, more broadly, incorporated into mainline Linux itself."

Overall, Dean concluded, "I can see a plethora of reasons IBM would want Sun, and I see a whole bunch of reasons why this acquisition might be a really good thing for the general FOSS marketplace."


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