Thursday, August 17, 2006

PR Nightmare

Is there a breakout of foot-in-mouth disease at IBM lately, or have do they just have a drug problem? I know the Solar System is currently being redefined, but what planet are they on?

Their recent comments on Sun open source creditials do make you wonder just what are they thinking. Due to their work on the Linux kernel, Apache, Eclipse etc, IBM have been able to enjoy the admoration of the open source community, while at the same time keeping their products very closed. To now it has been very clever marketing. The problem they have now is that some commentators are starting to see through this, and are asking why IBM does not open source its software and hardware like Sun Microsystems has been doing.

The obvious reply to this to avoid the focus on IBM's closed products, would have actually been to acknowledge Sun's effort, and focus on how long it takes to change a product of the size of Solaris and AIX from multiple closed source licenses to an open source license. Instead they have decided to attack the Open Solaris and Open Sparc projects stating that they are not truely open. This is just total bullshit!

Rather than hosing down the question, giving the commentators little to write about, they have decided to give the press a juicy story. This would be fine if they had a large swag of products based on open source. The fact is that they have not, and the press have now alerted to a renewed battle between IBM and Sun with IBM standing on very shakey ground, surrounded by mountains of closed source and hardware.

IBM's current statements are probably an indication of they think Sun's push to open source not only it's entire software stack, but also hardware, is a medium to long term threat to IBM position. It looks from what they are saying, is at the moment they are scratching themselves to find a solution. Using verbal attacks on Sun is just plain counter productive. I think the future may be tough for companies that dabble in open source while at the same time keeping a very closed product line. Hypocrisy does not further their cause.

What can IBM do to get themselves out of this mess? I think a good start would be to avoid opening their mouths, and start work on a timetable to start opening up their products. They state that their customers are not interested in AIX enough, but I find this very hard to believe. When Solaris was re-released onto x86 hardware, they stated that the was not enough interest from their customers to release software for the platform. Their stance changed very quickly when they got a tap on the shoulder from some of their largest customers. I think if they are seeing little interest from their customers, then this is a more of a worrying sign of the future of AIX. I hope this is not the case.


Jim Grisanzio said...

Yah, IBM is confused and threatened. That's why they are attacking. Their lack of expertise in this area is stunning. They are making fools of themselves from a marketing perspective. The best thing for us to do is to simply point to their statements. Their statements speak for themselves, don't you think?

Anonymous said...

There are large pieces of Solaris which are not open source. ``Sun does not seem to sell any systems that have source for all the drivers in Solaris.''

so, where exactly is this commitment to ``open hardware''? Sure, the verilog releases are exciting, but as a software developer I have more immediate concerns, like where is the source for the AHCI SATA driver, is it out yet? With IBM, unless I want Mesa/OpenGL acceleration, I think I can buy a Linux box where all the hardware has open-source drivers. And how can I quickly tell which Solaris drivers are open and which are closed so I can buy the most open system possible? There's no discussion of this on except a few specific challenges on email lists, which makes it look like Sun wants to maintain the current beneficial-to-them confusion about how many Solaris drivers are closed-source. We need to end this. Sun also says things like, ``our plan is that all new things added to Solaris will always be open-source,'' yet they routinely add new proprietary hardware drivers, for machinery they sell themselves!

Sun is benefitting most of all from the confusion over what is OpenSolaris. People think it's ``the free software version of Solaris.'' It's not a self-hosting operating system---it's only part of one, which must be aggregated with huge chunks of proprietary software into a distribution like Solaris Express. They used to make this point prominently, but people kept refusing to hear it, which was great for them---now I can't find it so clearly-stated, and I go to presentations at Sun's office where I'm the one to make this point, and everyone else says, ``um, I'm not really sure, but if you say so I guess.''

OpenSolaris is also not completely open-source---big chunks of its development cycle depend on software under the OpenSolaris binary license, on SunStudio, and perhaps on other binary licenses too. This means Nexenta contains large proprietary pieces, too!

I think OpenSolaris is great and have made a substantial commitment to it, but I'm not looking forward to Sun's ``pulling a Darwin.'' The OpenSolaris community is not well-served by pro-Sun zealotry, especially at this stage. I think we need (1) skepticism, and (2) experience.

On the balance Sun's effort seems very genuine to me, but Sun is not a person who I'm trying to decide if I like or not. If it were, I'd probably say ``yes, they're decent people.'' but it is not. It's a platform, and if I choose Linux or BSD over Solaris I absolutely will get a noticeably, relevantly more open system which is a big deal for someone who believes in the long-term benefit of free software, or who is trying to teach a class. Maybe installing IBM's Websphere stack will change this, but if I buy an x-series server from IBM with supported Linux pre-installed for running LAMP applications, I'll have relevantly less closed-source taint than if I buy hardware and Solaris support from Sun. And it's further true that Sun is encouraging people to be confused about this.