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Sun CEO: Linux is for 'hobbyists,' not enterprise

Scott McNealy is apparently still kicking and screaming about Sun's entry into Linux and open-source, telling attendees at the SunNetwork conference last week that the operating system is for "hobbyists" and not enterprise IT shops. McNealy said Linux's component approach to building a data center adds complexity and inefficiencies that run contrary to most business models.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sun Microsystems Inc. listened to its customers' demands and offered Linux support on its products, said Sun CEO Scott McNealy during the opening keynote at last week's SunNetwork conference. But now that Solaris for Intel Corp.'s x86 platform is available, he added two days later, there's no good reason to buy Linux for the enterprise. Indeed, he said, Linux is a "great environment for the hobbyist" but not for corporate IT shops.

McNealy began SunNetwork on Sept. 16 by touting Sun's Linux support for Linux. "We were told [by customers] to do Linux, so we did," he said. "We have got SuSE and Red Hat on the server. We are the one company that is doing [Linux] on the desktop and the server across the board, big-time."

The open-source software movement also has Sun's support. "We're the largest contributor to open-source on the planet, other than the University of California at Berkeley," McNealy said. "We are leveraging mankind more than any other company out there, whether it be through a browser or user interface or kernel or directory or app server or Web server."

McNealy criticized the press for repeating "our competitors' drivel that we are closed and proprietary." Sun is all about giving customers choice, he said, noting the company's support for 64-bit and 32-bit architectures, Solaris and Linux operating systems, Java technology and XML, and more.

The problems with both Linux and open-source software, however, is that they offer a component approach to building the data center, McNealy said in a press conference Thursday. To reduce cost and complexity, IT shops need to stop "building their own jalopies," he said. Instead, they need to outsource data centers or buy them ready-made with pre-assembled, preconfigured, standard systems. Sun introduced such systems, including the Java Enterprise System, on Tuesday.

Linux's initial popularity in business settings came from a lack of alternatives for the Intel platform, McNealy said Thursday. Linux offered a low-cost operating system that could handle Internet computing's demands, and it didn't pose the integration, security, pricing and licensing problems of Microsoft Windows.

Now, businesses have a better alternative because Solaris is available on Intel x86, Opteron, Pentium, Xeon and other hardware, McNealy said. Solaris' advantage over Linux is that it has better scalability, thousands of enterprise applications, Sun's worldwide service and support organization, and new, competitive prices. "And Solaris is already in the data center," he added.

Best of all, Solaris is "indemnified" and runs no risk of being slammed with copyright suits like the SCO Group's against IBM Corp., McNealy said. That's got to mean something, he said, to "large enterprises and media companies who can't afford to scoff at copyrights."

Linux doesn't fare well in the cost and complexity arena, either, in McNealy's assessment. Open-source and Linux are for hobbyists and IT companies, not corporate IT shops, he said at the press conference. Referring back to his car analogy, McNealy called Linux hobbyists "jalopy-ists" who build systems piece by piece.

That's not the cost-effective, complexity-reducing approach that businesses' IT shops should take. To illustrate the wastefulness of the jalopy-ist approach, McNealy referred to a North American enterprise that has a "director of Linux kernel release engineering." He likened that to a bank having a director of fuel-injection engineering because its employees' use cars. "It just doesn't make sense," he concluded.

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