Who's The Enemy And Enemy's Enemy? - InformationWeek
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4/7/2004
02:48 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Who's The Enemy And Enemy's Enemy?

Every place I've ever worked, I eventually get the reputation as The Guy Who Knows The Useless Trivia. So I was not surprised recently when a colleague IMed me to ask who said, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." My colleague was, of course, writing an article about the Microsoft-Sun Microsystems alliance announced last week.

Every place I've ever worked, I eventually get the reputation as The Guy Who Knows The Useless Trivia. So I was not surprised recently when a colleague IMed me to ask who said, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

My colleague was, of course, writing an article about the Microsoft-Sun Microsystems alliance announced last week. In a surprising team-up, Microsoft and Sun said they plan to drop several years of litigation, and to cooperate on achieving interoperability between their respective technologies. Microsoft is also paying Sun $1.95 billion, which Sun badly needs.

Linux is, of course, the reason for all this talk about enemies and enemies' enemies. Both Microsoft and Sun have histories of animosity with Linux. Microsoft currently views Linux as its single biggest competitor and threat, a place of honor previously reserved for Netscape, Novell, Borland and IBM.

Likewise, there's plenty of evidence that Sun wants Linux wiped out. Linux is stealing market share from Sun. While Microsoft's and Linux market shares are growing, Sun's is shrinking. Both Sun and Microsoft have licensed SCO's Unix intellectual property, in support of SCO's lawsuits against the Linux community.

Many industry observers are sure the alliance is anti-Linux. Jason Kraft, a financial analyst for A.G. Edwards & Sons, said the deal means Microsoft and Sun can concentrate on the "larger, looming threat for both companies in the mid- to long-term, and that's Linux and its biggest supporter, which is IBM."

Alan Weinberger, chariman and chief executive of the solution provider consortium the ASCII Group, said, "Microsoft and Sun are making a pincer move around Linux."

And yet the relationship with Linux is not simple, at least for Sun. Sun is a major Linux vendor. The company has achieved early success with its Linux desktop, which Sun calls Java Desktop System. Late last year, Sun announced that the China Standard Software Company cut a deal with Sun to make JDS the standard desktop for millions of systems across China, and Sun also has a big JDS deal in the United Kingdom. Just last week, Sun scored two good JDS deals: Tadpole said it will pre-load Java on its laptops, and Wal-Mart said it will sell desktop systems with JDS pre-loaded.

Will Sun ditch its current operating system strategy to cozy up to Microsoft? SGI is one of many companies that tried this strategy; they found it disastrous. Sun's leaders are no dummies, they're quite capable of learning from industry history.

This is the part of the opinion piece where I'm supposed to tell you what's really going on, whether the Sun-Microsoft deal is anti-Linux or not. For Microsoft, the answer is, yes. Or, rather, "Heck, yeah!" But the situation for Sun, with its love-hate Linux relationship, is more complicated.

In the end, I think what mattered to Sun is the money - $1.95 billion is a lot of potatoes, and Sun is hurting pretty badly. The same day that Sun announced its deal with Microsoft, the company also said it expects to post losses of $810 million in its just-completed third quarter, and plans to cut 3,300 jobs, about 9 percent of its workforce. I suspect that Linux had very little to do with the deal with Microsoft. I think Sun simply decided that they could make more money cooperating with Microsoft than bashing them.

Over the next few days, we plan to to bring you some more analysis of the deal and its likely effect on the Linux and open source community. But I don't think anyone can give you the definitive answer, because we simply can't know definitively at this point.

Another thing I don't know: Who wrote that enemy-of-my-enemy quote. Neither did Google. I finally advised my colleague to simply attribute it to "an old Klingon folk saying."

(This piece appeared in the Linux Pipeline Newsletter for Tuesday, April 6, 2004. It has been edited for the web.)

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