A recent interview with Simon Phipps, chief open source officer at Sun, discusses his reaction to harsh commentary from Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian. Hovsepian makes some strong allegations that Solaris and OpenSolaris are going nowhere.
Question: Novell CEO Ron Hovsepian said in a Linux Foundation interview recently that Sun's Solaris and OpenSolaris aren't going anywhere. I would venture to say that you don't agree, but do you want to elaborate?Phipps: Well, as it stands, the very fact that the question was asked at all says that something has changed and that OpenSolaris is now on the map. The comments that Novell's executive made were very ill informed, as I recall... I remember when I read them that they seemed to be based on data that was five years old. It seems to me that Novell's shareholders ought to be worried that their chief executive isn't keeping up on the competition.Question: Commenting on my coverage of the Hovsepian interview, Sun's Patrick Finch takes issue with the download numbers that Hovsepian cited for OpenSolaris. What are the numbers?Phipps: Hovsepian's number is silly. The actual data is far larger than that, and I think that he could have found that out simply by looking at the OpenSolaris Web site. It depends on which number you actually want. Patrick Finch wrote a blog posting in which he includes the numbers.The thing that people who actually want to use an operating system would download is Solaris Express. There have been vast numbers of downloads of both Solaris 10 and Solaris Express - in the millions of downloads for Solaris 10 and hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, for Solaris Express. I don't have precisely the numbers at hand right now.The deal is that since Solaris was made open source, there's been a huge resurgence of interest in OpenSolaris. It would be correct to say that OpenSolaris has not gotten to the point where you could expect it to go big just yet because the project itself is just a couple of years old. But even considering that that's the case, it's already got millions of downloads, and is already seeing significant revenues — which unfortunately we don't break out, so I can't get you direct numbers — from selling subscriptions to support Solaris.I think that what Mr. Hovsepian is doing here is "whistling in the dark," as they say. I think he's worried about the resurgence of a new, fast, innovative OpenSolaris...The fact the question arose shows it's on his mind, and that he had to be so dismissive with so little data suggests he's afraid. I don't have too many problems with my competitors being afraid of what we're doing, and I'm even happier that they are ill informed and don't know what's about to hit them.Question: Hovsepian also indicates it's not good for a company to try to strike a balance between open source and commercial interests. How do you respond to that?Phipps: Well, Novell's got a big problem. What they're doing is trying to sell open source software as if it was proprietary software. The comment that Mr. Hovsepian made seems to be projecting Novell's malaise onto Sun, but we don't have that malaise. We ship a completely free piece of software that anyone can download and use without any restrictions. We don't resort to FUD tactics around patents to try and scare people into buying some commercial version. Customers who actually deploy the software then have the opportunity to buy subscriptions so that they get the best out of their deployment....Let's say that you install Solaris and you like it. You're under no compulsion to come to Sun whatever. We're not like Novell or Red Hat with a commercial version and a free version. We just have the free software — in one edition — that you can adopt, and when you're ready, we have a support and service subscription you can buy. There's no special thing you have to do. You don't have to go get a special version.Let's look at Red Hat. To go from Fedora to Red Hat Enterprise... you actually have to drop Fedora and adopt Red Hat Enterprise if you want support. That's the model I think has problems, and that's not the model Sun's going for. Sun has one binary, and when you're ready for support, we sell support. If you never need support, you never need call.Again, it's the same situation you've got on the download numbers. Unfortunately, Mr. Hovsepian doesn't actually seem to have the facts. If he did, I'm pretty sure he would be a lot more worried about us.Question: Hovsepian also questioned the OpenSolaris "community contract" and called it dangerous....Phipps: Yes, there was a throwaway comment in the podcast where Mr. Hovsepian was trying to cast FUD on the way the OpenSolaris community administers itself. He was claiming that if you go look at the source code, you're tainted from ever working on Linux. That's complete and utter rubbish. I don't know where he's getting it from, but it's so untrue as to almost be actionable. Patrick Finch makes an interesting point that this isn't the first time Mr. Hovsepian has made an ill-informed and misleading attack on OpenSolaris. Maybe it's that he hasn't got anyone else to attack because Novell is such an unpopular company in the open source movement.Sun is actually a member of the Linux Foundation, and it is the single largest contributor of code to what you find on the average Linux distribution disk. We're completely committed to usable free software. We're committed to supporting Linux users. We're committed to developing OpenSolaris.