Sun declines user’s challenge to debate Solaris x86

Sun Microsystems Inc. has responded to an angry user’s public challenge to debate the future of a version of the Solaris operating system for Intel Corp. processors, saying the company is working on the issue in private and chastising the user for attacking Sun chief Scott McNealy.

John Loiacono, an executive vice-president at Sun, defended the company in an e-mail message Wednesday to the disgruntled user. The user, John Groenveld, associate research engineer at Penn State University, posted an open letter entitled “Shame on you, Scott,” in the Tuesday edition of the San Jose Mercury News.

In the letter, Groenveld called on McNealy, the chief executive officer, president and chairman of Sun, to engage in a public debate on the company’s support for Solaris 9 on Intel-based hardware. Loiacono told Groenveld that Sun is discussing these matters with a group of users known as the Secret Six and that McNealy would not respond directly to the debate challenge.

Also in his e-mail message, Loiacono criticized Groenveld for making personal attacks on McNealy.

“While we can quibble over the accuracy of some of the points you raise as fact in your letter, we have considered and will continue to consider your views and those of the rest of the community in our decision-making processes,” Loiacono wrote in the e-mail, which was obtained by IDG News Service. “With specific regard to the matter surrounding Solaris 9 on x86, as you are aware, we consult with a group of Solaris users, with whom we are confiding a great deal of proprietary information, to represent the greater community. These individuals engage with Sun on ways to meet the concerns of the community while meeting Sun’s business needs.”

“However, we must object in the strongest way to your personal attack on Scott McNealy in the press. We strive to maintain a separation between criticism of an idea and criticism of a person. Personalizing your comments greatly reduces your credibility as a spokesman for the community.”

Groenveld, along with a number of other users, is upset over Sun’s decision to cut back its support for a version of Solaris that runs on Intel chips. Although the vast majority of users run Solaris on Sun’s own SPARC processors, some businesses have relied on running Solaris x86 on their Intel-based hardware. Sun had provided support for previous versions of the operating system across a wide range of Intel hardware but has since decided to ship its new Solaris 9 operating system only on the Sun LX50 – Sun’s lone Intel-based server.

Some of the Solaris on Intel fans charge that Sun has turned its back on a loyal community of users and is making some business planning efforts difficult by its decision. Sun has said that the tough economic climate has forced it to scale back some efforts. Making Solaris 9 available on the Sun LX50 answers the needs of its business users even though it may anger some fans of the OS, Sun has said.

Groenveld has asked that McNealy face the Solaris on Intel users in a public forum to discuss reasons for scaling back support for the OS. He reacted to Loiacono’s e-mail by criticizing his interpretation of it.

“As a stockholder, I appreciate that Sun must protect its trade secrets,” Groenveld wrote in an e-mail interview with IDG News Service. “The ad doesn’t ask Mr. McNealy for technical details about Sun’s future plans. It simply requests that Mr. McNealy make a public commitment to resolve our complaint and for him to justify his company’s actions in a forum which he does not have absolute control over.”

A Sun spokesperson said he would discuss the matter with McNealy but that he doubted a debate would make sense for the company at this time.

“It could be interesting to have a debate, but it becomes a bit (pointless) at this point,” said Andy Lark, vice-president of global communications and marketing at Sun. “We are providing a Solaris x86 platform today. We have to do what is right for our customers and also what is right for our shareholders.”

Groenveld was upset at Sun’s assertion that he had made personal attacks against McNealy. The Sun chief is one of the most outspoken executives in the industry and often launches aggressive verbal assaults against his competition.

“It seems highly hypocritical for Sun to claim that its CEO cannot be personally taken to task by its customers when Mr. McNealy frequently challenges by name the CEOs of Sun’s competition,” Groenveld said in the e-mail interview.