"Make no mistake: we will open-source Solaris," said Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz at a Sun Network Computing event in Shanghai earlier this month.
But what Sun means by "open source" is very much up for debate. Schwartz said twice that there will be an open-source version of Solaris, but in the next breath, he backtracked, noting that the definition of open source varies by company and that Sun's definition is different from that of others, including Linux leader Red Hat.
Under questioning, several Sun spokespeople acknowledged that neither the timing nor licensing terms for open-sourcing Solaris have been finalized. Sun won't say if Solaris--or certain portions of the OS--will be released with an open-source license similar to the General Public License (GPL) that governs Linux or to any one of the generally accepted open-source licenses.
Schwartz hinted that Solaris will be "open" in the sense that Java has an open community process model of development but is not available under an open-source license. "We need to take the model used with Java and bring it to Solaris," he said at the conference. "What we're planning to do is open-source the operating system to enable community participation."
Schwartz's statements come at a pivotal time for Solaris. Its market share continues to plummet with the advance of Linux. A Burton Group report released last week said the recently completed Linux 2.6 kernel offers significant performance and scalability gains and that Linux is now "good enough" to compete with Unix for specific enterprise applications on one extreme and for handheld and embedded devices on the other.
In spite of the uncertainty, Sun's channel partners say opening up Solaris could help stem customer defection.
"There shouldn't be any downside to Sun's solution providers. In fact, it may help save some customers who were considering Linux," said Curt Stevenson, vice president of business development at Back Bay Technologies, a Sun partner in Needham, Mass.
One Linux solution provider said the value of the move depends on what technologies Sun makes available. Select features of Solaris, such as advanced dynamic partitioning and auto-mounting, as well as new features of Solaris 10, would represent a major advance, the solution provider said. But that partner expects it will be a short time before Linux leapfrogs Solaris.
"It was inevitable [Sun] would try to do this because they're losing market share," said Douglass Hock, president of solution provider Ideal Technology, Orlando, Fla. "Linux on commodity hardware is where it's at."
While the industry awaits details from Schwartz on what he means by open source, The SCO Group said it is confident that its licensees Sun and Microsoft won't open-source their proprietary operating systems.
"There are a lot of ways of opening up your code," said Darl McBride, CEO of SCO, during the company's earnings call last week. "I don't know exactly what Sun is talking about, but we've had a good relationship with them and discussions, and we feel confident they will continue to be a good licensee."