Sun Microsystems Executive Vice President of Software John Loiacono revealed new details to CRN about how Sun might open source its Solaris operating system.

Elizabeth Montalbano, Contributor

June 29, 2004

4 Min Read

Sun Microsystems' top software executive shed new light on Sun's plans to open-source its Solaris operating system Monday, but the vendor's ultimate strategy to release the source code for its proprietary Unix-based OS remains far from clear.

John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice president of software, told CRN at the JavaOne 2004 conference Monday that he was "not opposed to" giving away the entire source code for Solaris in lieu of making customers pay for extras such as fees for maintenance, support and software updates.

"If a customer today is buying a product from us currently referred to as Solaris -- in this case Solaris 9 or Solaris 10, which is about to ship -- if I buy that from Sun today I want mission-critical support, I want the Q/A test cycle, I want [Sun] to do all the rigor [it does] today," Loiacono said.

When Sun does open-source Solaris, a plan the company plans to discuss in detail later this year, all of the services Sun provides for the Solaris OS now "will change zero," he said.

This scenario suggests that Sun is pondering an open-source version of Solaris similar to how Red Hat offers its Linux distribution -- the operating system itself is free and available for use, but customers cannot buy Red Hat's particular version without purchasing maintenance and support for it.

Sun continues to have concerns about open-sourcing Java because the platform could lose the compatibility that has made it so successful, but Loiacono said executives are not worried about that happening with Solaris.

"I'm worried about forking in Java because there's a bunch of people sitting on the sidelines willing to take that stuff and run with it and break the compatibility," Loiacono said. "Am I worried about people taking a 20-year established product in the case of Solaris, or 10 years with this modern platform, taking it and forking it and running with it? You know what, if tomorrow, you downloaded [Solaris], and took it and said, 'I'm going to innovate with it and try to compete with you in your space in the Solaris community,' I'd say have at it."

Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz first said that Sun plans to open source Solaris at a Sun conference in Shanghai earlier this month.

Sun, Santa Clara, Calif., also is planning other creative ways to distribute its products, including more subscription-based pricing as well as auctions to sell those subscriptions of software and hardware bundles, Loiacono said. Sun first began pricing software at yearly subscription rates when it shipped its Java Enterprise System (JES) and Java Desktop System (JDS) bundles last year.

In a keynote Monday, Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz said that Sun is pondering the idea of putting together a bundle of developer tools and resources and a server on eBay, the popular online auction site, with a reserve price of 50 cents to $1 and asking developers to bid on how much they would pay for such a bundle.

Loiacono said Sun will indeed move forward with such an auction in the next 60 or 90 days, but it won't necessarily be on eBay. "It will be some kind of auctioning device -- it could be a partner, it could be our own," he said. "Instead of us telling you what the price is, why don't you tell us what the price is? Why don't we bid it out and see what you auction? You could come out and tell us that our price was way too high, way too low or pretty much in the ballpark."

Sun already offers a special price of $1,499 for a three-year subscription to the Sun Java Studio Enterprise toolset and a free Opteron workstation, as well as another promotion that offers developers a Sun Fire v20z server when they sign up for a three-year subscription to Java Studio Enterprise.

While that first auction will be used as a way to test the market for such bundles and allowing customers to set the price, Sun will continue to leverage auctions as a way to sell its technology in the future, Loiacono said.

"Take that as a precursor that if we do it here, it doesn't preclude us from doing it in a variety of different areas," he said.

Loiacono added that Sun will not only sell products this way, but also computing capacity on Sun network infrastructure.

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