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Volume 2, Number 4 -- January 27, 2005

Sun Starts to Roll Out OpenSolaris

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Sun Microsystems this week took its first step toward rolling out a completely open source version of its Solaris Unix variant. Solaris will be made open-source under the Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL), a new license the company developed that has been sanctioned by the Open Source Initiative as a bona fide and legitimate interpretation of open source ideals. However, if you expected to see the full-fledged OpenSolaris, you'll have to wait a bit longer.

Sun is this week rolling out the OpenSolaris site and the CDDL, and is setting the OpenSolaris community free to pursue its own interests. Sun is also releasing to the OpenSolaris community a portion of the Solaris 10 codebase, specifically the code behind DTrace, the performance monitoring and tuning tool that is one of the hot new features in the forthcoming Solaris 10 operating system, which is set to go into production next week.

According to Tom Goguen, vice president of marketing for Sun's operating platforms group, Sun will now be associated with three variants of Unix. There will be the production variant of Solaris, the Software Express variant, which is a beta program for future releases and versions, and the Open Solaris variant, which is the development community that Sun hopes to spawn around the Solaris 10 code that it will eventually free, in its entirety, under the CDDL.

Sun submitted the CDDL to OSI in December, and the OSI board approved the license on January 14. The CDDL is based heavily on the Mozilla Public License (MPL) 1.1, but it includes some things that other open source licenses do not. For instance, the CDDL allows the blending of open- and closed-source programs within the same solution; in open source lingo, CDDL is not viral, as is the GNU General Public License, which maintains that if you modify code or mix any code with a GPL program, the associated code, by default, is under the GPL license. Obviously, many people like this viral nature, and many people do not. The CDDL also has provisions that allow the full weight of the Solaris patent portfolio to stand behind the OpenSolaris community, a kind of provision that is lacking in Linux because it has not been patented and cross-licensed to death like Unix was for two decades.

While Solaris is itself based heavily on the Berkeley Systems Design variant of Unix, which was created by Sun founder Bill Joy and others while they were at the University of California-Berkeley three decades ago, it has seen many changes since the mid-1990s. Unlike Linux, the open source Unix-like platform created by and largely controlled by Linus Torvalds, Solaris has no single person controlling it. Torvalds would argue with this assessment, and undoubtedly claim he is not exercising control, but that the Linux community is. And to an increasing degree, he would be right. But he still has much power and influence in the Linux community, and Sun has no one like that inside Sun and no one (yet) in the OpenSolaris community it hopes to foment. Goguen says Sun has long since needed a kind of distributed, egalitarian approach to creating the Solaris platform, so going the next step into actually letting the community control the development of an open source variant of Solaris is not that much of a gap to jump. In fact, says Goguen, Sun hopes nearly all of the 1,000 software engineers inside Sun will begin to work through the OpenSolaris community as they make their enhancements to the code.

The exact nature of the OpenSolaris community is a bit of a mystery. Goguen says Sun had already established a pilot community, which will be the core of the community to start. Simply sign up and you're in. Sun will also work with the community to establish an advisory board to steer OpenSolaris. The board will have two representatives from Sun, two from the pilot community, and one luminary from the open source community. (Bill Joy is certainly available, and should be asked.) This advisory board will determine the processes by which the OpenSolaris community develops code. Goguen expects the advisory board will be named by March and that all of the issues will be hammered out so buildable source code for OpenSolaris will be available for download some time in the second quarter of this year.

Sun may be providing an open source Solaris to the IT world, but make no mistake, it is not about to give up its decades of experience in rigorously testing software, and it will absolutely not use OpenSolaris downloaded off the community site on its servers. "The goal is to do Solaris development in a community-centric way," says Goguen, "but not to compromise the quality and testing that goes into commercial Solaris."

Sun will continue to own and control the Solaris brand, and it will build its own commercial, compiled version of Solaris 10, which could possibly include features not put into the Solaris community. (I said could. There is no indication that Sun is doing this, but the very nature of the CDDL would allow it, and that is no accident.) Sun will similarly be providing the same certifications on its hardware as it has been doing for years, and it will decide what elements of OpenSolaris to pull into future commercial releases of its own Solaris. What remains unclear is what happens to the Software Express beta program given that, in a way, OpenSolaris will be a beta for future commercial releases.

As for Solaris 10, Goguen says it is on track to be released on DVD and from Sun's Web site on February 1. If you want the shrink-wrapped version in a box, you'll have to wait until March. As soon as Solaris 10 is launched, Sun will also begin rolling it out as a pre-installed option on its Sun Fire Opteron, Xeon, and Sparc servers. It will take a few months to make Solaris 10 an option across the line, says Goguen.

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Managing Editor: Shannon Pastore
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik, Kevin Vandever,
Shannon O'Donnell, Victor Rozek, Hesh Wiener, Alex Woodie
Publisher and Advertising Director: Jenny Thomas
Advertising Sales Representative: Kim Reed
Contact the Editors: To contact anyone on the IT Jungle Team
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