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Sun's Schwartz and McNealy: Patent Pledge Only for CDDL Licensees
Wednesday, February 02 2005 @ 02:03 PM EST

In case you were holding your breath, you can let it out now. Sun has declared itself. It doesn't care about the GPL segment of the FOSS community, the patents are only for signed-up licensees of the CDDL, and what's the beef?

I asked Dan Ravicher of PubPat.org if he had any reaction to share with you, and he said this:

"My advice is that developers should ask themselves if they really want to work on software distributed by a company that has expressly retained the right to sue them for patent infringement if they don't give their improvements back to the company."

Go here, choose Keynote Webcast Replay, then choose Java or Real Player, go to the popup selection, and on the left, choose the NC05Q1 Q & A, the final question-and-answer session and listen for yourself. At the very end of the segment, the executives are asked about the patent pledge, two questions interspersed with another about something else.

Schwartz mocks IBM's patent pledge, says that the GPL segment of the FOSS community is only one segment of it and there is a huge Open Source community outside of the GPL area, implying clearly that the nonGPL segment is all they are about. Scott says the open source community's unhappiness will all blow over, and he doesn't get it anyway. What's the beef?

He can't justify to his shareholders opening up all their IP, which they paid billions of dollars for, and just throwing it out there for the world to use. This was in answer to a journalist who asked why they wouldn't do what IBM did. Jonathan said the only thing that matters is IP.

So, there is our answer.

Charlie Demerjian has a piece in The Inquirer on the same conference. It made him queasy:

"The clumsy dodging of the Sun execs told me that they Sun is not really opening the patents, or the code.

"It's not that Sun is doing the same old thing it always does - that should come as a shock to no one, but the simple fact that it can't admit it. If you are going to sit on one side of the fence, that is fine by us, but don't play such transparent games. Basically, grow up.

"For all those waiting for Sun to stop dithering and do the right thing, move on, it won't. It is going to milk the process and it's trailing press for all it is worth. I was hopeful that it would have a change of heart, but the call convinced me otherwise.

"The saddest part of this is that until today, I was convinced that Sun was crawling its way out of the pit it found itself in after the .com bust. It re-worked the company, came up with a compelling new strategy, and was on the verge of co-opting one of the hottest trends in software.

"I saw the light at the end of the tunnel, but now I question it. I am openly calling on Sun to backpedal here and do the right thing. No weasel words, no hidden clauses, just open things up for real, or shut up and go back to the old ways. I can live with either version, and I think both would be better for Sun.

"Sun would be much better served by working honestly with open sourcers.

"This quarter's conference call can be summed up in this fashion. First is that Sun has a really neat technology which could potentially change a lot of things. Second it has all the tact in its presentation of a drunken football player on spring break trying to grope a cheerleader. For me, that ruined an otherwise great presentation."

I am, naturally, getting a lot of I told you so's, and I'm feeling a tad groped myself. So, about that CDDL. Watch out. That's what I'd say. Use it only if you trust implicitly in Sun. And if you do, I'd certainly like to know why. The community needs to watch this company like a hawk, in my view, after what I saw today. They are not yet full members of the Open Source community, to phrase it as positively as I can. They don't intend to be, unless they are absolutely forced to be, or perhaps they just don't know how to be. IBM wasn't so clear in the beginning, but they really decided to fit in and worked on the culture, not just the code. It is possible that Sun will do the same, but I saw no sign of it today.

It's just not their world view. The ethics of the GPL simply elude them. They prefer a Walled Garden approach that they hope will positively impact on their bottom line, if enough folks sign up to help them make some money. Do as you please, of course, and draw your own conclusions after listening to the conference session. But in my eyes, sadly, they are more users of the Open Source community than members of it and slumming in it. There is a difference.

And that's the beef.


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