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Authors slam Sun's open source strategy

Is Sun out of touch with the open source community? Authors Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser think so.

[Sun is] in denial, they're isolated, they're a little neurotic, and it's not a healthy environment for a company to be in.
Tom Adelstein
co-founderHiser & Adelstein Consulting

Tom Adelstein and Sam Hiser think that Sun Microsystems is on track to lose customers.

The two founders of New York-based consulting firm Hiser & Adelstein and the co-authors of Exploring the JDS Linux Desktop expressed doubts recently about Sun's open source strategy and said the upcoming release of the Java Desktop System is sure to be a disappointment.

Sun is "in denial, they're isolated, they're a little neurotic, and it's not a healthy environment for a company to be in," said Adelstein.

Hiser and Adelstein said they liked the second version of the Java Desktop System very much, but said third release -- due out in May -- isn't up to par.

"Release two was the first time anybody had put the engineering into it to make it render a really nice look and feel. It had very high-level performance," Adelstein said. "[But] the people they have now who rendered JDS release three have done a terrible job. I think they're going to find out that it's not going to do well at all."

The authors also complained that the upcoming release of JDS doesn't run on SunRay machines and offers only limited support for Sun's desktop management tools.

For its part, Sun said changes to the look at feel of JDS aren't finalized yet.

"We changed the look," said Jeff McMeekin, Sun's group product manager for JDS at Sun. "[But] we're still debating what we're going to do. Some people didn't like the color scheme. Those are tough things to debate because it's so subjective."

As for the availability of management tools, McMeekin said that could take some time. Many, he said, will be released in a subsequent JDS update this summer.

"The provisioning tool will not be there at the time of launch," he said. "It's a bit of an embarrassment not to have that, but the realities of the world sometimes intrude."


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Sun's open source role debated

While Sun is highly committed to open source products, the company has a hard time getting in sync with the needs of the open source community, Hiser said.

"They don't get any credit for their real contributions to very important open source projects because they don't have any people who actually understand or talk to individuals in the open source community," Hiser said. "They're not spending any time on the mailing lists."

McMeekin said Sun's developers might not be experts on the Linux kernel, but they are very active in open source development. Sun has been working with the GNOME open source project since 2001 and contributes actively to work on internationalization and accessibility features for Linux, he said.

"You gain experience in the areas that you work in," McMeekin said. "Our deep kernel experience would be in Solaris [and] we partner with SuSE for the Linux desktop. We define the content and they return the stuff."

Can I get some service here?

The authors said Sun is also doing a poor job of adapting its business model to the newest methods of selling software.

"Now, open source software is free, give or take, but there are services attached [and] it's sold differently," Hiser said. "They haven't even adapted to that."

"The Linux model is to give away the software and sell services," Adelstein added. "They're going to give away the software, but they don't have any services to sell."

Graham Lovell, senior director for Sun's x86 servers group, disagreed.

"We have a full portfolio of services to back up the products that we sell," he said. "Solaris 10 is free [and] we have a complete set of services to go along with that. For some time now we've been selling both Red Hat and SuSE, and we have a complete set of services to go alongside that."

Tony Iams, senior operating systems analyst with Ideas International in Port Chester, N.Y., said the overall health of Sun's services model is subjective and depends on the needs and perspectives of the individual customer.

In terms of support and patches, Sun has a long track record of doing a good job. But, he said, Sun is not particularly involved in integration or business consulting services.

"It depends how you define service," Iams said. "For a lot of users, services are really [just] support and patches."

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