Is Sun really Public Enemy No. 1?

Dell detests them. Many Linux players distrust them.

Dell detests them. Many Linux players distrust them. IBM takes almost as many potshots at them as it does at Oracle.

Microsoft? Not this time. In fact, Microsoft is watching them like a hawk.

Instead, the new Public Enemy No. 1 these days seems to be Sun Microsystems. And Sun executives seem to be reveling in their outlaw status.

But does Sun really deserve to be America's most feared high-tech company?

Undeniably, Sun is good at cranking out bigger and bigger boxes that many e-businesses are finding they require to power their Internet sites. When Sun talks "data center," the term has teeth. (While Microsoft talks data center, as in its Windows 2000 Datacenter Server, it's still talking four-node clustering.)

Sun is still, first and foremost, a hardware company -- a fact of which McNealy & Co. are not ashamed. But it's software that makes the world go round. And on the software front, Sun still isn't a powerhouse. Not even close.

In fact, I'd argue, despite Sun's increasingly public campaigns aimed to prove it is as open as any company, Sun continues to provide confused messages as to how, when and where it intends to play in the open software space.

On the home page, Sun is running tallies, counting off the number of "free dot-com software" packages its customers have downloaded. It includes among these offerings its latest Java software development kit, the StarOffice desktop suite it acquired a year ago and Solaris 8.

As anyone who has followed Java knows, Sun has been less than honest in its intentions to build around Java an open, equitable community process. Just this week, a poll was circulating on the Internet aimed at forcing Sun's hand in making Java truly open source.

And on the Solaris front, while Solaris 8 isn't governed by Sun's onerous Sun Community Source License, it isn't really open source, either.

To Sun's credit, former StarDivision founder and now Sun VP Marco Boerries is attempting to improve Sun's relations with the open-source community. And former IBM Java champion Pat Sueltz, who these days heads up Sun's software business, could end up tipping Sun's scales a bit more heavily in favor of openness.

For now, however, Sun seems content to crow about announcements like its decision to make available a porting kit that allows Linux network drivers to be converted to Solaris ones for Intel-based systems. Come on, Sun. If you want to do something bold in the open-source space -- something that would really merit your most-hated status -- why not buy VA Linux?

What's your take? Is Sun just a bully? Or is Sun the company everyone else in the industry should be watching and fearing? Talk back below and let me know.


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