I got an interesting comment in response to last week's blog on desktop Linux in which the person refered to Stephen Shankland's CNET news report from June of 2005 entitled: "Sun steps back from desktop Linux". What that report is about is Sun's decision to focus the Java Desktop on its own systems - here's a bit:
One casualty of the JDS changes could be a partnership with the China Standard Software Company (CSSC), a consortium of companies supported by the Chinese government, which Sun said in 2003 would adopt Sun's desktop Linux. "We're going to immediately roll out the Java Desktop System to between a half million and a million desktops in 2004. It makes us instantaneously the number one Linux desktop play on the planet," McNealy said at the time.
According to my informant, Sun got hosed on the deal with CSSC and found itself facing a choice between pretending to enjoy it or losing a big chunk of low cost revenue on the teleco and embedded systems side of their business.
If it's true that CSSC basically took the source but ignored the license, it's a lesson to all of us -and maybe an important one as communist Chinese companies, all of which are ultimately owned by the state, seek to create partnerships and other business arrangements with companies and individuals in the west.
Willy Brandt, back in the sixties, used to talk about "real politic;" a phrase that hid a policy of accomodation with the enemy -either despite or because of which he won a Nobel Peace Prize, became West Germany's Chancellor (head of state) and was widely considered a political winner until his personal assistant was shown to be an East German spy.
Commercial blackmail isn't any different or more honorable, and if history shows that Sun's fear of Wallstreet's reaction to the loss of a big chunk of business effectively enforced a policy of "real technic" then this apparently unimportant shift in Sun's emphasis may eventually be regarded as a critical marker in a a worldwide conflict over information control.
Oddly enough there's a silver lining of sorts to this -and it's in the lessons learned. What we think of as the open source movement in technology is an extension of the normal academic tradition of learning through sharing and implies that same level of mutual trust and commitment to progress. If, as may have been the case with Sun's Linux desktop venture in China, one of the parties abuses that trust then other mechanisms have to be brought in to rebalance future transactions.
One such short term response might be a general waning of corporate support for desktop Linux -something I believe we've been seeing for a year or two without adequate explanation. A more hopeful longer term response, however, might be increased support for X-terminal or Sun Ray style computing as smart alternatives to client-server, and whether that's implemented with Linux and JDS or Windows and Office won't matter as much as the change in architecture.