In remarks that can only be labeled ill-considered, Novell’s President and COO Ron Hovsepian pretty directly attacked Sun’s OpenSolaris project. Now before I get the Enderle/Economist treatment from Ashlee , let me be up front and say that Novell is not a RedMonk client, while Sun is. So feel free to keep that in mind when you consider the following. Please also keep in mind, however, that I know and have a lot of respect for many of the Novell folks like Miguel (I benefit from the fruits of their labor every day, as I rely on a number of Mono based applications).
Hovsepian’s made no shortage of bold claims recently, as others have noted. Perhaps the most notable is his claim that Linux on the desktop is set to take off within 12 to 18 months. That kind of commentary, however, is to be expected from a vendor that’s really focusing on that area for expansion. And for what it’s worth, I’ve heard much the same message from others with substantial reach into enterprise and government. Novell’s been responsible for a lot of innovation (Xgl, etc) in the desktop arena of late, and should take all due credit for that. 
But in discussing OpenSolaris, Hovsepian – assuming that his words were not taken grossly out of context – says some truly bizarre things.
- Contention #1: Open Solaris is “marketing open source, rather than a true technical open source”
While I’m not even sure what that really means, I suspect he’s not grumbling about the usual suspects – the non-GPL CDDL license that OpenSolaris uses, or the fact that some of the tools necessary to build OpenSolaris weren’t present at the initial launch. Instead, it seems as if he’s trying to characterize the OpenSolaris project as window dressing, something Sun did solely for the PR bump of having an open source operating system.
Given the costs associated with open sourcing software, this argument is not particularly supportable – the legal fees involved with open sourcing a piece of previously closed software alone would outweigh any potential “marketing” value. But it also belies the real successes that community has had, whether in distro or participation form.
- Contention #2: “The whole spirit of open source is to have one base of code”
Maybe some of you from the Linux side of the aisle are inclined to agree with Hovsepian’s criticism of OpenSolaris and its respective community, but this comment is more or less incomprehensible. I’m not even sure where to start, but let’s look at the major application categories. Operating systems? There are several besides Linux (and it’s been argued to me recently that Linux isn’t even a single entity itself), the most popular of which is FreeBSD. How about application servers? Again, there’s a lot of choice, with JBoss and Geronimo leading the pack. Java containers? Apache’s got two to pick from – Jetty and Tomcat. Enterprise databases? Take your pick from Ingres, MySQL, Postgres, and so on. Maybe the web server market? Not so much. While Apache dominates the field here, you still have other options including LightHTTP, WEBrick, etc. Hovsepian’s own company, as others have pointed out, supports two open source codebases – GNOME and KDE – designed to address the same market.
- Contention #3: “Open-sourcing Solaris – while it’s appreciated that you can see the low-level pieces of code – doesn’t move the overall effort of the open-source community further down the track. It creates a fork, which none of us likes.”
Maybe this explains the above comment; that the one codebase argument was not intended to imply that there should be a single project per application area, but rather that open source abhors forks. The question then is whether or not that’s true. In general, I suppose it is – forks aren’t everyday occurences in major projects, but as Mambo/Joomla illustrates, they can and do happen. But there are two problems here: one, OpenSolaris isn’t a “fork” any more than OpenSuSE is, and two what constitutes a fork. Are Debian, Gentoo and OpenSUSE forks because they use different and incompatible package management systems? How about if they distribute their own custom, patched versions of the Linux kernel?
Or perhaps Hovsepian is implying that any open source operating system that’s non-Linux consitutes a fork? In that case, somebody better go tell the FreeBSD guys at Yahoo to switch from their fork to Linux.
The interesting thing about this is that the folks on the OpenSolaris list are generally enthused about it, rather than intimidated. They seem to be viewing it as validation that they’re making progress. And I think there’s something to that; where Linux advocates were once simply dismissive about the prospects for Solaris/OpenSolaris, the public and private commentary about the operating system I had once dismissed has gotten markedly more aggressive of late. Bears watching.
 Don’t read that as “Novell only innovates on the desktop.” The SuSE folks have done great kernel work over the years, and Novell/Ximian’s Robert Love literally wrote the book on kernel hacking.