Sun to keep the peace with Linux backers

Sun Microsystems chief Scott McNealy tried to charm the Linux faithful Tuesday with kind words for the open source community and a pledge that his company will not try to take over the community's work.

McNealy, president, chief executive officer and chairman at Sun, gave the first keynote at the LinuxWorld conference, bombarding the audience with his usual quips and attacks on competitors such as Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. Besides the competitive barbs, however, McNealy did show some products of interest to the Linux fans, touting a new Linux server that runs Sun's own distribution of Linux, called Sun Linux. McNealy also promised that although Sun will work to make money on Linux, it will not fragment the Linux community as the Unix world was fragmented.

"We aren't interested in taking (Linux) proprietary and getting ahead of the game," McNealy said. "We want to innovate and are not interested in creating a Sun proprietary brand."

This stance on Linux is different from the tack that Sun, IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and others eventually took with the Unix operating system. Despite several efforts to create one common version of Unix, the vendors went forward with their competing flavors of the operating system, creating proprietary lock-ins to their technology.

Nine vendors, including Sun and Red Hat Inc., plan to announce Wednesday that their versions of Linux will comply with version 1.2 of the LSB (Linux Standard Base) - specifications backed by a number of vendors to set core standards for Linux distributions.

"I think we need to force the world to LSB compliance, not to Red Hat or IBM compliance," McNealy said. "We did not do as good a job of this in the Unix world as we should have."

Sun, based in Santa Clara, California, has made its money selling servers that run the company's own Solaris OS and UltraSPARC processors but is now making its first major foray into the Linux world. Sun's dual-processor LX50 server that runs the Sun Linux OS was released on Monday as its first server targeted at general purpose computing tasks that do not use Solaris on a SPARC chip.

McNealy touted the new server as a good spot for deploying some of Sun's open source software. The company will ship its open source Grid Engine software and developer tools with the new server. In addition, Sun backs the project, which created much of the code that Sun sells as Star Office, an open source productivity suite that competes with Microsoft's Office.

When not showing off Sun products, McNealy used his keynote speech to deliver comedic slams directed at Microsoft, IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. The jabs would be standard fare at a usual Sun conference but were a novel twist for the Linux crowd, as indicated by their repeated laughter.

"What amazed me was that they didn't know any of the punch lines (to McNealy's jokes)," said Jean Bozman, vice president of global enterprise server solutions at IDC. "This is a new audience for the Sun message, and Scott personifies the Sun message. They seemed to be responding to a lot of the same ideas that have played such an important role in the Sun Unix activities over the last twenty years." (IDC is a division of International Data Group, parent company of IDG News Service.)As with Solaris, Sun will look to use Linux as a platform for driving other parts of its business, she said. The company will try to sell higher-end software on top of its base Linux server and tap into a new community.

Despite some of its chummy words for the crowd, McNealy made it clear that he will not embrace the enthusiasm among some of the attendees for free software and not commercializing code.

"I am a capitalist and am not ashamed of that," McNealy said. "One of the ways that we will go make money is selling hardware. I have not seen the open source equivalent of downloading a server over the Internet."