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A Brief History of Sun by Groklaw's grouch - Updated
Tuesday, May 06 2008 @ 12:26 PM EDT

Yesterday, I wrote in a comment that indeed Sun's performance in 2003 in signing the agreement with SCO, highlighted in the trial testimony, was making it look really bad. The motive in doing it seemed to me to be not just to open source Solaris but to also hobble Linux and promote a competitive product instead, and in the ugliest way possible. And then, when they had to power to stand up to SCO and protect Linux end users, they failed to do so.

Yesterday, I noted that there has been a change in management, and the guy who signed that agreement is gone. On the other hand, they still offer OpenSolaris as a competing product. On the third hand, no one showed up at trial to testify for SCO. So the real question I was asking was, has Sun changed? After all, Microsoft talks a lot about openness and such, but they fail to convince me that they wouldn't kill and eat my cat if they thought there was money in it. Ethics is the real value add to FOSS, you know. It's the one thing Microsoft can't embrace, extend and extinguish. The hovering doubt in my mind was, did Sun benefit from the SCO assault on Linux? Did they intend it? Is it all still playing out as they hoped? Clearly SCO's attack failed, but no one predicted that. So, other than that, what exactly is the answer to my question?

Groklaw member grouch took my question seriously, and he researched and compiled a list of all the Groklaw articles since we began. At that point, he says, he needed to go no further, because it was obvious there has been a change.

No matter where you stand on my question, I think it's useful to have as a handy list. I pointed the finger at Sun back in 2003, and it turns out I was exactly right. So all you guys who attacked me for saying that Sun was playing an ugly game can send me apology emails now. : )

But fair is fair. If there has been a change, I need to highlight that too. Whether their journey is complete is another question, but grouch's research shows the trajectory very clearly.


A Brief History of Sun on Groklaw,
~ by grouch

I just took about 2 hours putting together a list of links to Groklaw articles from the Archives with "Sun" in the title. This was in response to one of your comments with the question, "2. Have they really changed?"

2. Have they really changed?

I think Sun is not the same as it was 5 years ago, or even 3 years ago. How long has it been since Schwartz blogged about Red Hat being "proprietary"? Even RMS got tired of all the noise Sun made about setting Java free, someday, but then Sun actually did it. That was shockingly different. Could you imagine any of the higher-ups at Sun saying the following in an interview 5 years ago?

Remember: open source is not about "having" the source code; it's about having the freedom to do things with the source code. You can't isolate the philanthropic element out of open source; in fact, it couldn't have existed without it. The American software freedom activist Richard Stallman has been quoted many times on the subject of free software. He has always insisted that he's perfectly relaxed about people making money out of software, just as long as people don't lose their freedoms as a result.

-- Sun sheds light on its open-source future -- Adrian Bridgwater,, 2008-04-29

Your articles in the Archives pretty well map the changes over time:

[Whew! The above includes everything I could find in the archives with "Sun" in the title. A few have nothing to do with whether Sun has really changed or not, but are included for completeness. Maybe it could be a useful list for someone].

I think the opening of the dialog about software patents represented the beginning of a change at Sun Microsystems. It just seems to me a light came on and began to glow brighter with time. From "lunatics" and "deeper hole" to acknowledging Richard Stallman and "[y]ou can't isolate the philanthropic element out of open source; in fact, it couldn't have existed without it"? This is the same Sun? Maybe some really do live and learn!

Hope this is useful somehow.

-- grouch

"People aren't as dumb as Microsoft needs them to be."
--PJ, May 2007

Update: A reader points to the European Commission's assessment of Sun's contribution to FOSS here [PDF]. Also there is word today that MySQL is going to be 100 per cent open source:

As reported yesterday from CommunityOne:
  • MySQL Server is and will always remain fully functional and open source,
  • so will the MySQL Connectors, and
  • so will the main storage engines we ship.

In addition:

  • MySQL 6.0ís pending backup functionality will be open source,
  • the MyISAM driver for MySQL Backup will be open source, and
  • the encryption and compression backup features will be open source,

where the last item is a change of direction from what we were considering before.

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