[lsb-discuss] LSB conf call notes for 2008-07-30

Theodore Tso tytso at mit.edu
Sat Aug 9 09:53:58 PDT 2008

On Sat, Aug 09, 2008 at 10:26:39AM +0100, Alan Cox wrote:
> - Sun employees might wake up one morning as a Microsoft subsiduary (or
> any one else big) - Yahoo's nearly did.

That's a fair thing to question; after all, Sun's market cap is $7.7
Billion USD, which means that a large number of High Tech companies
could buy Sun simply by taking it out of petty cash, without having to
do a offerring might require issueing any shares and diluting their

	Big Tech Companies: Cash on Hand
	  (most recent quarter reported)

Company	    	Cash 		  Market Cap
		(Billions, USD) (Billions, USD)
Cisco		$26.24		   $143.03
Microsoft 	$21.17		   $256.84
Apple		$20.77		   $150.02
Google		$12.73		   $155.34
Intel		$11.96		   $136.22
HP		$11.65		    $14.84
Oracle		$11.04		   $121.27
IBM		 $9.85		   $174.52
Dell		 $8.50		    $50.52
Yahoo		 $3.07		    $27.85
Sun		 $2.70		     $7.70

Source: http://finance.yahoo.com, fetched August 9, 2008

There is the question about whether it would make any strategic sense
for any of these companies to buy Sun, of course, but let's say that
they do.  What's the worst thing that happens?

OK, let's assume the worst, and Microsoft decides that that Java is
the only reason that .NET isn't succeeding (yeah, stupid, but then
again Ballmer thought buying Yahoo was a good idea :-), and they
decide to execute a hostile takeover against Sun.  And let's assume
that the many companies that depend hugely on the Java Ecosystem, and
who make more in profits than Sun's entire market cap every year,
don't lift a finger to make sure that Sun doesn't end up in hostile
hands, even though it would mean a complete destruction of the entire
Java ecosystem.  I think it fair to say that this is high, highly
unlikely, and would involve many executives and many companies being
totally asleep at the switch, but OK, let's suppose this (arguably
fantasy) scenario takes place.

What happens then?  Well, the Java specification is freely
downloadable although the terms of the license appear to not permit
redistribution.  So if Sun goes out of business, what then?  Well, all
or most of the VM portions of the Java specification were published as
books, and are available on Amazon.com.  So even a hostile takeover by
Microsoft wouldn't make the specifications instantly vanish.  And the
platform (i.e., the Java classes) specifications are in JavaDoc, and
are part of the sources that were released by the OpenJDK under the
GPL.  So while I am not a Java expert, and would really appreciate if
a Java expert could check me on this, I think it should be possible
for us to get access to enough of the specifications that we would
probably be OK on the spec front.

That leaves the tests, and here we are on definitely much shakier
ground.  A number of OpenJDK developers, including at Red Hat, have
apparently already signed the Sun Contributor's Agreement (SCA), and
have downloaded access to the TCK.  That was how Fedora could ship an
OpenJDK that had passed the TCK.  The problem with that is (a) they
can't give the TCK to anyone else outside of their organization, and
(b) the TCA license expires after a year and must be renewed.  So in
the case of a hostile takeover of Sun, it is conceivable that the
community might lose access to the tests forever.

That probably does mean that we should negotiate for a license that
allows the Linux Foundation to redistribute the TCK to folks who have
signed the LF NDA (as we have negotiated on behalf of various kernel
developers for access to the PCI SIG specifications), and that the
said license agreement should have change-of-control language in it
that guarantees that the Linux Foundation will always have the right
to redistribute the TCK even if Sun ceases to exist or gets taken over
by a hostile entity.  That's probably something that we will need to
take off-line.

Of course, if this absolute worst case *were* to happen, the impact to
the LSB is perhaps the smallest part of the fallout.  Asking this
question is a little like asking "what happens if an gigantic asteroid
is on a collion course with the Earth and NASA projects it's going hit
Sunnyvale; what are you going to do with the LSB to mitigate that
risk?"  :-) 

When you consider the truly vast amount of money made by companies
like Oracle, IBM, BEA (ok, so Oracle just acquired BEA), and others,
never mind the use of Java in the embedded and mobile space, the
complete disappearance or hostile takeover of Sun would be such a big
splash that anything could happen.  In the worst case, at that point
we can ask our members for directed funding to write a complete set of
open source tests from scratch.  My bet is Java is important enough
that if the worst were to happen and the TCK were to become
inaccessible, we'd probably be able to get that funding.

But of course, we should probably talk to Sun and the Java team first;
I'm sure they want to make sure the right thing would happen in the
case where Sun goes bankrupt or faces a hostile takeover threat ---
I'm sure they want to be good stewards of the Java community.  So
perhaps they've already thought about this threat, and have
countermeasures in place....

						- Ted

P.S.  With respect to governments and "open standards", there are
plenty of "open standards" that have proprietary test suites.  There's
nothing usual there.  In fact, the LSB is quite unusual that our tests
are published under a Open Source License.  Maybe there's something we
can teach Sun about how it is perfectly possible to publish one's test
suites under an Open Source license, and still be able to carry out a
certification program.  (Other people can fork your tests, but the
certification program hinges on the trademark, so the copyright
license on the tests really don't matter; the excuse given on the TCA
license agreement page for why the tests can't be open sourced really
doesn't hold water.)

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