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Red Hat and LASER5 part ways in Japan. LASER5, owned by the Itsutsubashi Research Company of Japan, was until recently the group that was producing a Japanese version of Red Hat's distribution for sale in that country. They were adding Japanese input, translating the documentation, and doing all of the usual work required for a localized version of the distribution. The result was to be an official product called "Japanese Red Hat Linux 6.0."
On August 24, however, Red Hat informed Itsutsubashi that the deal was over. Red Hat plans to greatly expand its activities in Japan, and will be opening up its own offices there. Thus, they have no further need of their association with LASER5/Itsutsubashi, and have shut it down. Itsutsubashi is on its own.
Itsutsubashi is not taking this lying down. Their press release on the subject is to the point: they are not entirely pleased with the way Red Hat does business, and they feel they are better off on their own. They have some choice words about Red Hat's management, and claim that Red Hat's new status as a public company has cost it its competitiveness.
The product that was to be "Japanese Red Hat Linux 6.0" is now, thanks to the wonders of the GPL, instantly renamed "LASER5 Linux 6.0." They will finish out the work they have been doing, and the product hits the shelves on September 17. They even already have an agreement with LinuxCare so that LinuxCare will provide support for the new distribution. Essentially, LASER5 wants to follow in the footsteps of Linux-Mandrake and cash in on a value-added version of Red Hat's distribution.
They clearly see the local, value-added approach as the future of Linux distributions; the press release describes Red Hat as "a local brand in the US only." They point to Linux-Mandrake, Connectiva, and SuSE as examples. Notably absent from their list is TurboLinux, which just might give them a little competition on their home ground.
Is Red Hat truly a "local brand"? Certainly companies have a certain home turf advantage in their own country. Their understanding of the language, culture, and distribution channels is better. And people in many countries prefer to buy local products when they can. Local companies can take advantage of Red Hat's investment in the base distribution, allowing them to concentrate their energy on the localization efforts. Maybe they really do have an edge.
But one would be ill-advised to forget that Red Hat now has a nice, big pot of money. Some of that money is earmarked for its international expansion efforts. With sufficient funds, local help should be readily available. It seems unlikely that Red Hat will allow itself to be relegated to "local brand" status without a substantial and well-funded fight. It should be interesting to watch.
Sun's purchase of StarDivision was made official this week. As expected, they are taking the StarOffice suite and making it part of their product line. They even have the obligatory agreement with LinuxCare so that the support base is covered. StarOffice - including on the Linux platform - is now a proper Sun product.
Perhaps more surprising were Sun's other decisions: the source for StarOffice will be made available under Sun's "Community Source License," and Sun will be heavily pushing "StarPortal," a Java-based version of StarOffice intended to be run via a web browser. See Sun's announcement for details.
The availability of source will be nice. Your editor, having coped with too many StarOffice bugs over the last year, may well dive in and try to fix some things himself. Source is almost always good; the quality of the software should benefit from this release.
But Sun's Community Source License remains problematic. Many blame it for the delays in getting the latest Java Development Kit out for Linux. It will be hard, if not impossible, for useful pieces of StarOffice to be reused in other open source office suite projects. And, as pointed out by Derek Glidden in this week's letters column, if Sun ever decides to drop StarOffice (i.e. if its strategy fails), there is no ability to continue the development of StarOffice independently. Betting your business on StarOffice as an open source product could be risky.
And what about StarPortal? Exporting an office suite to browsers via Java is not exactly a new idea. The people at Corel must be smiling to themselves, glad they don't have to go through that one again. Customers thus far simply have not gone for that mode of operation, despite a number of advantages. It is slow, and web browsers tend not to be the most stable platform on which to run mission-critical applications.
While Sun's move puts the company more firmly in the Linux world, it is not really a Linux-oriented manouver. It appears, instead, to be all about creating work for high-end servers in the future. Sun's success is far from assured, and, if it fails, it could drag down StarOffice in the process. It bears careful watching.
Red Hat and trademarks. The following is the best we have been able to piece together from a number of communications over the last few hours. Verification is hard, unfortunately. [Update: after publication we received this message from Bob Young at Red Hat stating their position on the issue, and clearing up some of the facts involved. Recommended reading].
Apparently (we have not been able to confirm this) Amazon.com was given a verbal "cease and desist" order by David Shumannfang, Red Hat's attorney, requiring them to stop selling products with the term "Red Hat" in the title. Numerous vendors apparently sell "Red Hat GPL" knock-offs via the Amazon auctions, and these had drawn Red Hat's attention. Amazon turned around and told a number of its auction vendorsto stop using "Red Hat" in their products. We have had more than one vendor confirm this for us.
One of these vendors, Robb Sands, after pursuing the issue for a while, sent out this note in an attempt to publicise the situation. Mr. Sands claims to have discussed the problem with Red Hat's legal department; Red Hat has denied, in a communication to LWN, that this discussion took place. However, Mr. Sands is quite specific with regard to exactly who he talked to and when. It seems probable that some sort of conversation happened.
Amazon has apparently stopped telling vendors to avoid the "Red Hat" term, pending some sort of written notification from Red Hat. That may not happen anytime soon, since David Shumannfang is apparently now on vacation and unavailable. In Mr. Shumannfang's absence, a coherent response from Red Hat seems to be hard to come by. They will not confirm that they are cracking down on trademark usage.
Whether or not such a crackdown is happening now, it seems realistic to expect it to happen at some point. Red Hat does have a brand name to protect, and a risk of losing its brand if it fails. Additionally, it would only take one "Red Hat Linux" disk with a trojan horse or other nastiness to create massive trouble for Red Hat and its customers both. Facing the risks of having its brand declared to be in the public domain, or of simply seeing its value destroyed, Red Hat will almost certainly be forced to act sooner or later.
The ideal thing might be for Red Hat to suggest a suitable name for copies of its distribution. In the absence of such a suggestion, the community should come up with a well-recognized name of its own. We suggest "Pink Shorts" in the hopes that somebody else will come up with something better. If you have an idea, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org; we'll publish the best. (Please tell us if you do not want your name published with your suggestion).
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September 2, 1999