"Let Rome in Tiber melt and the wide arch of the
ranged empire fall".
With apologies to William Shakespeare for borrowing one of Marc Anthonys most famous
lines, this was my first reaction to news that Sun Microsystems plans to freely release
the source code for its proprietary Solaris operating system to catch the rising tide
spurred by Linux.
Outside Linux, Solaris is the first major operating system to even approach an open source
development concept and by including it (with Java) within Sun's "Community
Process", it will allow developers to freely make their own changes to the code,
provided they use open interfaces and submit bug reports to Sun. As with Java, access to
the Solaris code will be free for non-commercial development but Sun will, quite
naturally, charge license fees when the code finds its way into commercial products.
Its quite likely that as a Windows NT & 2000 explorer reader, you
arent too bothered by the Open Source argument, dont use Solaris or even
Linux. In fact, you may be wondering if this is a good thing and how on earth Shakespeare
found his way into the column.
Would you recommend it?
Marc Anthonys words were chosen to emphasise what I feel is a momentous occasion and
Ill tell you why. At the beginning of 1999, I had dinner with Robin Bloor and my old
friend Hellmuth Broda, the European CTO of Sun. It was only a matter of months since Linux
first broke the horizon and at the time, it seemed more of a threat to Microsofts
server monopoly, than a serious rival to Suns Solaris. Hellmuth confided in me, that
if his son should ask him what flavour of Unix he should get to grips with, he would
recommend Linux, because the source code was available and, of course, its free.
Anything more serious, applications in the Big Boys Toys division, would
probably need Solaris and he seemed fairly comfortable that Linux was still a long way
from achieving adult (my words) recognition.
In August, Red Hat, possibly the most widely recognised of the Linux distributors went to
the US market and walked away with a $6.5 billion market capitalisation. Its stock
leaping from $14 to $96 in a matter of days. In the months since my dinner, the massive
wealth and influence of the IT industry, outside Microsoft, has embraced Linux as a
serious platform alternative to Windows NT. In October we had the UKs first Linux
Show in London, and I have invited Red Hats CEO, Bob Young, to appear as a guest on
the Sky Business Report.
The truly earth shaking nature of the Solaris Open Source announcement lies in
the recognition that the tidal wave of support behind Linux not only threatens the
established order, a la Microsoft, but represents a clear and present danger to the
interests of The Gang of Four, Sun Microsystems, Hewlett Packard, SCO and yes,
Ill include IBM, although it suffers from a split personality where Unix is
Microsoft quite possibly views Linux as the Great Satan because it represents
rather more danger to Windows NT as a populist idea, than as an immediate alternative and
indeed, replacement technology.
Technologies can be fought and bought
Technologies can be fought and bought but new religions are rather harder to resist and
its quite clear that Sun Microsystems has seen the danger to its own Solaris
revenues that the express train Linux represents. For Microsoft, now balanced precariously
between the old and the new versions of Windows, the New Deal offered by the
Linux evangelists couldnt come at a worse time in its history. After all,
heres the deal: spend lots of money on Windows NT licenses and productivity software
or choose Linux, follow a more Server-based computing strategy and maybe save 70% of your
IT costs, depending of course on whose figures you accept.
Within the Unix universe, the new order appears to be moving towards a more cost effective
mix, which involves low-cost Linux workstations and Linux responsible for Domain,
Web-serving and File & Print tasks. The heavy artillery at the back-end could be
Solaris or HP-UX and any requirement for Windows connectivity or productivity applications
is provided, courtesy of Citrix, which is developing Metaframe for Unix.
Six months ago, I couldnt imagine support for Linux growing fast enough to be
capable of out-punching Microsoft before it was comfortably sandbagged behind Windows
2000. The truth is that the Linux phenomenon changes everything, its the computer
industry equivalent of the Reformation. This in turn triggered the thirty-years war, a
modern equivalent of which is about to be fought over the souls of IT Managers over the
next three years.