[conspire] Christian draws out a Sun Microsystems guy

Christian Einfeldt einfeldt at earthlink.net
Fri Apr 29 17:04:29 PDT 2005

On Thursday 28 April 2005 19:01, Rick Moen wrote:
> I note that Christian Einfeldt got to be interviewer for Sun
> Microsystems's "chief technology evangelist" Simon Phipps on the
> upcoming OO.o 2.0 and the related Java controversy:
> http://madpenguin.org/cms/html/62/4023.html
> Very much worth a read.

Hi Rick, thanks for mentioning this interview here.

It seems that one of life's ironies is that your friends can 
sometimes be a greater burden than enemies, so long as the enemies 
are held quietly at arm's length.  

Ultimately, I believe that open source is as unstoppable as a rising 
tide.  I believe that we will see gcj and other open solutions to 
the Java problem.  I do believe that Simon Phipps cares about open 
source, but he, like others at Sun, are trying to figure out a 
graceful way to recover from the disruptive Linux wave that has 
hammered Sun.  Linux is in the process of mauling Sun the same way 
that the telephone mauled Western Union and transistors mauled RCA.  
They are disruptive technologies, and I believe that Sun is trying 
to cope with the demands of Wall Street to ride out this Linux 

IMHO, Sun is in the process of moving to an unproven technology: 
ubiquitous open source as the bedrock upon which higher level apps 
will rest.  In his interview with us, Jack Messman of Novell said 
that open source is like a rising tide, and it will continue to 
move up the stack.  In that regard, I believe that Sun is 
Microsoft's future.  But the problem is that right now, Wall Street 
still has not understood how to open source will fit into the 
business environment, other than the areas where Apache and Linux 
have already become established.

But the big picture is still unclear to Wall Street, and for that 
reason, I believe that Sun is trying to cope with its disruption by 
moving to offer commercial open source solutions, but the 
demand-side is not yet sufficiently built up to support Sun's 
revenue targets.  That is a classic Innovator's Dilemma in the 
sense that Christensen talked about it.  I really believe that Sun 
thoroughly understands how Linux will change the enivronment, but 
there is not there there yet for them to go to on the scale that 
they need to keep their revenues up and thus their stock afloat.

So Sun apparently feels the need to send out mixed messages, by 
criticizing Linux, by creating the CDDL, by criticizing the GPL, by 
not open sourcing Java, etc.  Sun has shareholders and employees to 
protect, and like every large company in the process of getting 
hammered by a disruptive technology, coping with that change is 

I do believe that Sun will astonish everyone by coming out of this 
disruptive wave alive, because it sees that the greatest market is 
not in the US, but abroad.  Sun is doing a better job at getting a 
presence in developing markets than is Microsoft, and as Microsoft 
Office begins to lose to OOo, and Linux explodes in the OS space, 
Microsoft will be trapped up market in North America and a few 
places in Europe.   Microsoft will become a niche market player, 
and this will become apparent from the failure of Longhorn, just as 
sales of Office 2003 are stalling. 

> Phipps wants to convince readers (mainly aiming at businessmen)
> that dependence on proprietary software is not a problem.  In a
> classic demonstration of poisoning the well, he classifies anyone
> who disagrees as an "ideologue" and as anti-business, versus
> himself and unstated others as moderates willing to "compromise".
> I kid you not!  He really did haul out the old line about
> "compromise": Whenever you're not getting your way, obviously the
> problem must be that the other side isn't willing to compromise. 
> It's that simple!
> People who don't go along are described suffering from "some
> ideological boundaries that need crossing there".
> Even though Christian asks him (almost) directly, Phipps ducks
> the question of whether Sun will commit to making OO.o 2.0
> functional on free-software / open source JRE:
>   MP: some people on the OpenOffice.org list are saying that the
> GCJ is getting good enough to be a substitute for a JRE, others
> are saying that's still far from being the case. What do you
> think?
>   SP: I haven't really looked into that very much. I don't really
> have an opinion on GCJ. For me, the most important thing about
> the Java platform is creating compatibility.  {blah, blah, blah}

I think that Simon really believes that IBM could grab open source 
code and wield its market power, regardless of the fact that the 
code is open.  This is the nature of his stated concern with the 
GPL.  I think that where Simon is mistaken is that is the power of 
forking.  Jack Messman was right.  You can't stop the tide.  

But I do think that we should have more sympathy and gratitude for 
Sun.  It did create OOo, which is a marvelous gift to the world, 
and Java will never be a .Net lockdown.  My only concern is that 
Sun will not open source Java in time, and something else will come 
along that is truly open, and Sun will be left clinging to a 
proprietary commodity whose time has come and gone.  

Nonetheless, I do believe that Sun is trying to learn how to shift 
to greater engagement in community development and marketing, but 
is squeezed by IBM, Microsoft, Novell, HP, and unreasonable Wall 
Street expectations.  You have to remember that Wall Street is very 
demanding on a quarterly basis, and the Street and the financial 
press together leave very little room for maneuvering to make long 
term changes against the demands for ongoing revenue.  

Remember, too, that we in the open source world need corporate 
allies.  Microsoft Office delivers a sufficiently high level of 
competition that AbiWord and Koffice alone are insufficient to 
respond to.  So right now, Sun has gotten itself into a position 
where it is needed by the open source community because of the 
unique role that OOo plays.  I have heard complaints on the OOo 
list about Sun not playing nice with contributors to OOo code; and 
IBM is no model of generosity in contributing to that code base; 
and the OOo code base (I am told) is rather large and integrated 
such that it is not amenable to a more distributed community 
development, at least not right now; and Novell does not seem to 
have the capacity or interest to replace Sun's role; and Microsoft, 
of course, would love to kill OOo; and where is HP?  

So while some healthy skepticism of Sun is warranted, IMHO, the 
burden of proof shifts to Sun critics to come up with a functional 
replacement for Java and for OOo, and no project or coalition of 
projects seems to be even close to providing that kind of a drop in 
replacement for Sun.  

So yes, let's continue to ask the difficult questions of Sun, such 
as when will it do as Eric Raymond suggested and let Java go.  But 
in the meantime, let's not shoot ourselves in the foot by ignoring 
the fucked up world we would be in without Sun.  Just imagine that 
there was no OOo.  We would have no credible desktop solution in 
sight, whereas with OOo, we have alternatives in Linspire, Ubuntu, 
Kubuntu, Xandros, SuSE, Mandrake (Mandriva), Red Hat and probably 
five other distros that I am forgetting.  

As I said, some members of the OOo community have criticized Sun for 
problems in accepting contributions from non-Sun developers, and it 
might well be that Sun needs to learn to be a better community 
member in that area.  Being a simple end user, and nowhere near a 
developer, I have trouble even accurately summarizing the 
discussion, which can be found here:


So for me, here's the bottom line:  While Sun is not angelic, I 
would hate to face Microsoft without them.  I don't mean to say 
that it is a binary decision, Sun or Microsoft, but let's not 
forget how vicious MS is, and badly it would ream us all given the 
slightest chance to do so.  

> One of the biggest areas of concern is 2.0's new "Base"
> integrated-database module -- which introduces gratuitous,
> _avoidable_ dependency on proprietary JRE software.  Phipps takes
> a similarly lazy swipe at the Java problem, when he talks about
> that:
>   SP: [...] In terms of understanding OpenOffice.org, Sun has
> nothing to gain financially by promoting Java within
> OpenOffice.org. If you look for example at Base, the new database
> feature in OpenOffice.org 2.0, it turns out that the easiest way
> to get good database functionality into OpenOffice.org was to
> pick up an existing open source database.
> And he's _very_ keen, in mentioning this, to completely sidestep
> the point of controversy:  Sun choose a JRE-dependent database
> project, while they _could_ have, instead, put just a bit of
> further development work into using the C-coded (and much faster)
> sqlite database engine, instead.  In making that decision, Sun
> ignored without comment numerous pleas and petitions from people
> in the open source community, including me.
> So, yes, I think it's very reasonable to suppose that Sun is
> going out of its way to promote its proprietary Java within OO.o
> -- for reasons of corporate NIH (not invented here) sentiment, if
> not _direct_ financial gain.
> If Phipps were serious about dealing with the open-source
> community, and weren't just a lackey mouthpiece for proprietary
> software, he'd have not started out by calling open source people
> names and playing dumb I'm-a-moderate-and-you're-a-fanatic
> rhetoric games.
> More important, he'd have said yes or no to the key question: 
> _Is_ Sun Microsystems, or is it not, committed to shipping a OO.o
> that's fully functional on free-software / open source JREs? 
> It's within their power to ensure that.  The only question is
> whether they give a damn.  Signs strongly suggest that they
> don't.
> BTW, Christian:  I try to stay up to date on the condition of
> open-source Java codebases.  My write-up is here:
> "Java" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Devtools/
> The unstated (and perhaps a bit too subtle) subtext of that
> write-up is that, yes, one can write Java that runs entirely on
> open-source Java tools -- but the problem is that almost all
> extant Java codebases are written by people who don't give a damn
> about free software,

Is that hyperbole?  

> and suffer either gratuitous dependencies on 
> various of Sun's colossal set of proprietary Java class
> libraries, or on some of Sun's perpetually moving-target sets of
> new language features that arrive only slowly in open-source Java
> support code.

What about Mono?  It is my understanding that Mono is Miguel de 
Icaza's answer to .Net, and that .Net was Microsoft's answer to 
Java.  In other words, as Mono gets better, will Sun have to end of 
life Java?  To a novice like me, it seems that Open Solaris was a 
way to provide a "big brother" solution for Linux.  In other words, 
it's my understanding that Sun had derived revenue from Solaris for 
quite some time; that Linux was eroding revenue for Sun by 
providing lighterweight solutions on commodity hardware; but that 
Solaris can handle some more heavy duty enterprise tasks that Linux 
is not yet up to; that Sun wanted to off-load some of the costs of 
maintaining Solaris; and that Sun wanted to leverage some of the 
power of the open source community by opening up Solaris, thereby 
getting more eyeballs on Solaris, get new ideas, etc, all the 
benefits of open source.  

What I'm trying to say is that it seems as if there will come a day 
when Java will just get to be to expensive for Sun to carry by 
itself, and the Java community will be seen as not diverse enough 
and not large enough as it currently is.  This is another reason 
that I am not worried about Java.  Under the competitive pressures 
of Mono and other truly open solutions, Sun will eventually have to 
let Java go.  Am I way off base there?  

> Case in point:  Have a look at my listing of all 123 known Mail
> User Agents (mail clients) for Linux, and read the entries for
> those coded in Java:
> "MUAs" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Mail/
> Notice that typical Java MUAs (such as "Grendel") require both a
> recent JRE and half a dozen or more class libraries: typically
> the huge Javamail library and some others.  Do the authors bother
> to make sure their MUAs function using gcj and GNU Classpath? 
> Hell no!  That's just not on their radar.

Again, is this something which will eventually be commoditized by 
the open source community (Mono?) or will Sun be forced by the 
rising tide to let Java go? 

> When Phipps says "the Java community is one of the most free
> software communities that has ever existed", he is of course
> brazenly lying, 

ooh, harsh!

> for reasons amply demonstrated by my MUAs 
> example.  But I feel a little sheepish pointing that out, because
> it was probably there as flamebait.

also harsh!

I understand that Simon is a corporate spokesperson, but I have 
trouble believing that he was either lying or flamebaiting.  After 
the interview, Simon told me that he is discouraged by what he 
perceives as religious type discussions, and he thinks that heated 
discussions are not helpful for the OOo community.  He said that he 
thinks that there are more ways than one to do open source freedom, 
and he genuinely does respect the FSF.  But he is concerned about a 
"monopolist", whom he didn't name, but I take it means IBM, which 
he believes could take GPL'd code and create a monopoly with it.  

In other words, I believe that he believes that a free market needs 
multiple *corporate* players who can wield *proprietary* weapons 
against one another, and that GPL'd code is not strong enough to 
stop IBM, for example, from burying Microsoft and then becoming the 
next Microsoft.  I think that Simon is incorrect in this position, 
but I think that he genuinely believes.  So I think that if you met 
Simon, you would see that he is genuine, and not just a corporate 
spokesperson, although he does understand that his job is to 
present Sun's position in its best light.  So you take what he has 
to say with a grain of salt and factor in his bias.  But to say 
that he was blatantly lying or flamebaiting is too harsh, IMHO.

I do understand Don Marti's point about the hyper abundance of 
bullshit, in which he quoted Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt 
on bullshit:

"One of the most salient features of our culture
is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows
this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to
take the situation for granted. Most people are rather
confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and
to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has
not aroused much deliberate concern. We have no clear
understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so
much of it, or what functions it serves."

If I get it correctly, Harry's point is that to avoid conflict or 
because of intellectually laziness or intellectual weakness, we 
have a cultural tendency to accept spin as an unavoidable evil.  
Harry apparently ends his book by saying that "sincerity is 
bullshit."  One Amazon reviewer of the book says that Harry "points 
to one source of bullshit's unprecedented expansion in recent 
years, the post modern skepticism of objective truth in favor of 
sincereity, or as he defines it, staying true to subjective 

My earlier statement about taking Simon's word "with a grain of 
salt" is probably exemplary of something that gripes Harry 
Frankfurt.  Take Rich Moen's objection to Simon's statement that 
"the Java community is one of the most free software communities 
that has ever existed", of which Rick said Simon is brazenly lying.  
Harry Frankfurt says that bullshit is not a lie, because a lie is a 
recognition of truth followed by a deliberate deviation away from 

I interviewed Simon for the purpose of furthering the discussion of 
what is best for OOo, and not to confront Simon.  So maybe to that 
extent I am guilty of indifference to bullshit.  But I think that 
community discussions like this will flush out spin, and that was 
my purpose.  But if we are going to say that Simon was bullshitting 
when he said that "the Java community is one of the most free 
software communities that has ever existed", let's ask WHY we are 
being skeptical of Sun and Simon.  We do expect members of our 
community to speak truthfully.  I think that Linus is respected 
because he speaks truthfully and with a minimum of bullshit.  

But there is a time and a place and a manner for dealing with 
bullshit, and there are varying depths of bullshit.  For example, 
Microsoft's "get the facts" campaign is some deep bullshit.  I 
would not put Simon's statement that "the Java community is one of 
the most free software communities that has ever existed" anywhere 
near Microsoft's "get the facts" campaign, the latter of which 
begins the bullshit with the very title of the campaign.  

Simon's statement is more complex, because there is a type of 
suicidal isolationism present in the FSF's insistence on using only 
Ututo-e as a GNU/Linux distro.  I am willing to go to great lengths 
to use OOo, rather than Microsoft Office or WordPerfect Suite as my 
office suite, but I am not willing to rely on only AbiWord and 
Gnumeric for my office suite productivity needs.  Maybe this is 
what Harry means by "sincerity."  But I would rather use OOo and 
have to deal with Java, and wait for a drop in replacement, such as 
Mono or gcj, rather than go with AbiWord or Koffice.

I think that it would probably NOT be correct to say that OOo is 
more free than AbiWord, or that OOo is even as free as AbiWord.  
But I do believe that AbiWord will spread, in part, because OOo 
will help pave the way for a successful desktop.  If that success 
is due, in part, to Java and Sun's deployment of Java, then I am in 
favor of showing a bit of respect and gratitude to Sun for 
providing it too us, and helping us reaching a more free world as 
we can, step by step.  

So I will agree with Rick that Simon's statement that "the Java 
community is one of the most free software communities that has 
ever existed" is an overstatement.  But I would not go so far as to 
call Simon's statement "brazen lying" or flamebaiting.   The odd 
thing about human society is that our continued survival and the 
health of our communities is dependent on what Jim Surowiecki calls 
the "Wisdom of Crowds."  Each of us has a role to play.  Simon is 
known as a Sun spokesperson.  Rick Moen is a muckraker and analyst 
who calls them like he sees them.  I see my role as a community 
advocate.  My primary concern is that we have healthy 
conversations, and that, above all, we beat Microsoft, Comcast, 
Disney, and Verizon Wireless, who are seeking to lock down the 
whole enchilada.  So in my role, I might be more tolerant of what 
Rick calls "brazen lying", and perhaps I'm being too tolerant of 
what Harry Frankfurt calls "bullshit."  Then ends do not justify 
the means, and I'm not advocating bullshitting.  Rather, I'm saying 
that if it is sufficient to tweak Simon by saying that his 
statement that "the Java community is one of the most free software 
communities that has ever existed" is an overstatement, then maybe 
calling his statement "brazen lying" is, from my perspective, more 
than adequate to tweak Simon.  So Simon, consider yourself tweaked, 
but greatly appreciated.  

> The more significant point is 
> that, very likely, Sun is aiming to ship a OO.o 2.0 that is
> proprietary-software-dependent in exactly the same way those MUAs
> are -- which is why he didn't give you a straight answer to your
> question.  (Basically, I expect that the Java-dependent 2.0
> "enhancements" will be broken for anyone who doesn't load Sun's
> JRE, but other parts of OO.o will still work.  Thanks for
> nothing, Simon.)

"Thanks for nothing" was a bit stern.  I also use Linspire, which 
has licensed Macromedia Flash, and have you ever seen the 
Macromedia license?  or the Apple Quicktime license?  those 
licenses are vicious!  My point is more about tone than substance.  
Breaking OOo without Java is something for which Sun deserves to be 
tweaked, but isn't "Thanks for nothing" something which should be 
reserved for the baddest of the bad, i.e., Apple or Microsoft?  

As a side point, I am always a bit bugged by seeing people lug Apple 
products around to open source events, and yet where is the 
criticism of Apple's lockdown?  They're almost as bad as Microsoft, 
IMHO.  The mere fact that they make slick stuff doesn't mean that 
they shouldn't be taken to task.  Who has done more for us, Apple 
or Sun?  

Christian Einfeldt

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