Sun Taps Linux Guru to Guide Operating System Strategy
Published: March 22, 2007
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
If you want to beat them, get them to join you. That appears to be the strategy that server and operating system maker Sun Microsystems is taking as it hired Ian Murdock, one of the luminaries of the open source community and co-founder of the Debian distribution of Linux, to head up operating system platform strategy.
What Sun has asked Murdock to do is not yet clear, and in his announcement on his personal Web page, Murdock only gave some hints.
"I'm not saying much about what I'll be doing yet," Murdock explained in the posting, "but you can probably guess from my background and earlier writings that I'll be advocating that Solaris needs to close the usability gap with Linux to be competitive; that while as I believe Solaris needs to change in some ways, I also believe deeply in the importance of backward compatibility; and that even with Solaris front and center, I'm pretty strongly of the opinion that Linux needs to play a clearer role in the platform strategy."
And now, all of the tongues will start wagging about how Sun is going to do its own Linux distribution.
Aside from his work building and steering Debian, Murdock has been a champion for standardization in the specific Linux and general open source communities, including Linux International, the Open Source Initiative, and the Linux Core Consortium, the Linux Standard Base, and the Free Standards Group. Just a few months ago, Murdock was tapped to be the chief technology officer at the newly created Linux Foundation, which was the result of the merger of the Free Standards Group and the Open Source Development Lab, the latter being a vendor consortium that was created to steer the development of Linux. This is, of course, the job that the Linux Foundation has taken on, including both the standards and the code that implements them in the same organization.
You might be thinking that Murdock should report to Rich Greene, executive vice president of Sun's software division, but he is actually reporting to Aisling MacRunnels, who used to be in charge of marketing for the Sun Grid and who has just been promoted to vice president of software marketing across all of Sun. She reports to Anil Gadre, Sun's chief marketing officer. But inasmuch as Murdock will be the liaison between the engineers working on the OpenSolaris open source variant of Sun's Solaris operating system and the people who put together the commercial Solaris version inside Sun, he is in effect a bridge between the engineering and marketing parts of Sun.
What Murdock is not doing, by the way, is replacing the Tom Goguen, who left Sun this month after a little more than two years in the position as vice president of Solaris marketing. Goguen came back to Sun after a hiatus that included a stint as the chief marketer for Apple Computer's server variant of the Mac OS X operating system. It is not clear that Sun will have a vice president of Solaris marketing, in fact.
Sun has announced that it has promoted Dan Roberts to the position of director of Solaris and OpenSolaris marketing, replacing Chris Ratcliffe, who left the company a few weeks ago. Roberts was previously director of developer tools and emerging Internet technologies, and came to Sun through its $540 million acquisition of Java and C++ compiler maker Forte Software back in August 1999.
Back to Murdock. According to the posting on his eponymous Web site (which was crashed when Sun made its announcement, sad to say), Murdock fell in love with Sun workstations 15 years ago when he was a business student at Purdue University, and subsequently changed his major to computer science. But in the late 1998s, academics like Murdock started moving to cheaper Linux operating systems on Intel-based workstations.
"More and more people coming through university computer science programs were cutting their teeth on Linux, much as I had on Sun," Murdock explained. "Pretty soon, Sun was increasingly seen by this new generation as the vendor who didn't 'get it,' and Sun's rivals did a masterful job running with that and painting the company literally built on open standards as 'closed." To those of us who knew better, it was a sad thing to watch."
Now that Sun has embraced X64 servers and workstations, taken Solaris open source as well as most of its software stack, and pioneered the idea of energy efficiency in computing, "the corner has been turned," according to Murdock. "Now, I am going to be a part of it."
It will be interesting to see what Murdock and the rest of Sun come up with as a Linux strategy as they work to improve OpenSolaris and Solaris. Sun claims to have a Linux strategy, but it is one that it has not articulated well. That's not entirely accurate, and Sun knows it. Sun's Linux strategy since Solaris 10 was launched was that Solaris 10 is better, and companies should use Solaris unless they have no choice but to run Linux. While Sun is buddy-buddy with Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Canonical who has commercialized a variant of Debian called Ubuntu, as far as most commercial Linux customers--meaning, not ISPs--are concerned, Red Hat and Novell are the only real options when it comes to running Linux in the data center. There are exceptions, based on local language support, of course. Murdock will, among other things, have to make Solaris as good as Linux or better and tell people about it. And that will be quite a different role, indeed.
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