A new front has opened in the simmering imbroglio between Sun and the open source community. Sun's president and COO Jonathan Schwartz said that Red Hat Linux' kernel was proprietary. You might have had a similar impact describing the Pope as Jewish.

The comment was made as part of a conversation in which Schwartz mentioned the possibility of opening the Java source code, previously seen as something of a shibboleth for the company. His reservations regarding Red Hat were that to open Java would encourage forking - the problem of multiple versions, which dissipates the development effort and whose deleterious effect has blighted Unix for decades.

"There is a fork in the Linux world: Red Hat and the others," the same interview quotes Schwartz as having said. "Red Hat has pretty much forked the distribution. This has given Red Hat tremendous gains for now, but ultimately it's an impediment in the growth of Linux."

Linux founder Linus Torvalds, disagreed, and said so: "It's not proprietary, and a number of the top Linux kernel contributors are Red Hat employees." But Sun's Schwartz would have any of it. Yesterday he repeated the charges - namely that Red Hat has "forked" Linux on the server side.

Equally adamant was Red Hat spokesman Leigh Day: "We are fully committed to open source and our code reflects that. Red Hat has no proprietary software built in our distribution. Our core strategy is built on open source and we will not deviate from that strategy." Day added that although binaries weren't freely available, source code was, thus fulfilling the terms of the GPL (General Public License).

Responses from those within the open source community, who might be expected to be most sensitive to any notion of closed source software, are in broad agreement with this sentiment.

In the same interview, Schwartz went on to say that users would find better Linux compatibility if they shifted to Solaris. Sun's proprietary OS.