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Sun Hires Debian Linux Founder Ian Murdock

Sun Microsystems has hired Ian Murdock, the creator of Debian Linux, as its new chief operating platforms officer.

By joining Sun, Murdock leaves his position as CTO of the newly launched Linux Foundation, a group created last month through the merger of OSDL and the Free Standards Group.

"I'm not saying much about what I'll be doing yet, but you can probably guess from my background and earlier writings that I'll be advocating that Solaris needs to close the usability gap with Linux to be competitive; that while as I believe Solaris needs to change in some ways, I also believe deeply in the importance of backward compatibility; and that even with Solaris front and center, I'm pretty strongly of the opinion that Linux needs to play a clearer role in the platform strategy," Murdock wrote in a blog post announcing his new position.

Murdock's move comes as Sun works to reshape its software strategy and plant itself at the vanguard of the open-source movement.

Last year, the Santa Clara, Calif., company took the dramatic step of opening Java under the GNU General Public License, placating critics who spent years calling for Java to go open source. Under the leadership of Jonathan Schwartz, who took over as CEO last May, Sun is working to open all of its software holdings.

"The appointment is at the same time both brilliant and controversial but is the logical next step, as far as I am concerned," Sun's chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps, wrote in his own blog entry about the news.

Like Sun, Linux is at a crossroads. The next few months will see the adoption of the GNU General Public License 3, a new version that could cause a schism in Linux world as Linux components move forward on different, incompatible licenses. The GPL 3 issue is stressing an open-source fault line, the division between the idealistic "free software" side led by the Free Software Foundation and a separate group of open-source developers more focused on the pragmatic advantages of open development.

One quick way to determine developers' allegiances is in how they refer to Linux -- the free-software side prefers "GNU/Linux," to reflect the importance of the GNU operating system components that form an essential part of all Linux distributions. Murdock, firmly in the GNU/Linux camp, is already roiling the waters at Sun over the issue.

"As of this weekend, Ian wasn't even on the payroll yet and was already in a peppy little e-mail debate over when to say 'Linux' and when to say 'GNU' and when to say both," according to Tim Bray, Sun's director of Web technologies. "Nobody said this was going to be easy, but let's have some fun along the way."

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