Sun Raises Curtain On OpenSolaris Effort

Sun released the first component of its OpenSolaris initiative, but most of the open-source operating system won't be available until midyear.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

January 26, 2005

4 Min Read

Sun Microsystems launched its OpenSolaris initiative Tuesday, but the move was somewhat anticlimactic. It didn't actually release all the code, only a hors d'oeuvre before the main course that's now scheduled for sometime before midyear.

Sun is offering Dynamic Trace or DTrace, a key feature of the Solaris 10 operating system, as the first component of the its open-source OpenSolaris operating system. DTrace is a performance-analysis tool that tells developers how to optimize their applications for maximum performance.

Sun executives said the rest of the OpenSolaris system will be available before the end of the second quarter. Solaris 10, which OpenSolaris will be based on, is scheduled to be available for download at the end of this month. Solaris 10 will remain Sun's proprietary and branded version of the Unix operating system that it will continue to sell and support at what it believes will be current levels.

Open-source Solaris won't have an impact on Sun's revenue, declared Sun Executive VP for software John Loiacono on Tuesday, a statement that may be aimed at nervous stockholders who wonder if Sun will remain profitable after several years of uneven financial results.

To emphasize the importance of Sun's move, CEO Scott McNealy made the announcement himself and pointed Solaris developers toward as the Web site where any available downloads and discussion points on Solaris development might be found. Sun also will maintain more than 1,000 developers on staff who will contribute to the open-source project as well as the in-house branded Solaris.

OpenSolaris will be released under the Community Development and Distribution License, which requires that developers who modify the open-source code share their changes with the rest of the community. Those who take OpenSolaris and build systems with it without modifying the code may produce and sell OpenSolaris products without being required to expose those additions to other developers, Loiacono said.

"You can contribute code back or build your own proprietary value on top of the OpenSolaris," McNealy said. The distinction differentiates OpenSolaris from Linux, which is issued under the General Public License. A GPL license requires Linux developers to add to Linux only code that's also been issued under the GPL.

Open-source code versions of Solaris will be available not only for Sun's UltraSparc Hardware but also for Intel X86 and Advanced Micro Devices Inc.'s Opteron logic chips as well, McNealy said.

In addition, Sun will make 1,670 patents associated with Solaris available for use by open-source developers. The move follows IBM's example of making 500 patents available to open-source Linux developers, rather than leaving in question whether the patents might one day lead to open-source users being dragged into court to pay royalties.

Sun move's is both an attempt to broaden the base of developers using and contributing to Sun's core operating system and a bid to stem defections of its server customer base to Linux. McNealy made a point of saying Linux applications will run on OpenSolaris.

"This is not an EOL (end of life) release. It's a supercharged, turbocharged rocket launching," McNealy said. "No one else has done what we have just done."

Loiacono said Sun hopes OpenSolaris will make headway in some of the same markets where Linux is particularly strong: education, government, and entertainment. Animated films are frequently developed by animators who program graphics on clusters of servers running Linux.

By the end of the second quarter, Sun will have established a five-member Community Advisory Board to provide governance of OpenSolaris affairs. It will include two employees from Sun, two representatives of companies using OpenSolaris, and a yet-to-be determined member of the open-source community.

Asked if that open source adviser might be Linus Torvalds, the lead developer of Linux, McNealy all but ruled him out by saying he didn't think such a busy figure would be available. But he said Sun has a short list of prospects and it will try to produce a respected open-source figure for its panel.

McNealy noted that Sun competitors have criticized the long-anticipated move as Sun got a late start in the open-source field. But he said there are 300,000 Solaris developers worldwide constituting "a vibrant, vocal community. We're not starting from scratch."

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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