OpenSolaris: One Year Down, Participation Up
Published: June 15, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
The OpenSolaris project that Sun Microsystems created to foster a development community around its Solaris variant of the Unix operating system is celebrating its first birthday this week--assuming you call a birthday the day that source code was actually made available to developers to play with. While the OpenSolaris project has come far in the past year, but there is still work that needs to be done to allow more significant participation in the project from techies outside of Sun itself.
Perhaps one of the largest obstacles that Sun has to overcome has nothing to do with technology, but an understanding among IT professionals about what OpenSolaris is and what it isn't. OpenSolaris is not a commercial operating system that is meant to be deployed in the data centers and the departments of the world, but rather a means for companies, academic institutions, government agencies, and individuals to participate in the creation of future Solaris releases and versions. It is also a vehicle by which Sun hopes to extend Solaris from its existing Sparc and X64 platforms to other platforms, such as the Polaris variant of Solaris that a sub-project in the OpenSolaris community is spearheading to port Solaris to IBM's and Freescale Semiconductor's variants of the Power and PowerPC processors. OpenSolaris is a development community, just like the Fedora community created by Red Hat and openSUSE community created by Novell.
There's a good reason why vendors want to create such communities, and Chris Ratcliffe, director of marketing for Sun's Solaris software products, explains. "The source code for Solaris has always been available, but you had to pay for it or be part of an academic institution. The interesting thing to me was that the people who had access to the source code would not only report bugs, but they also usually also sent in a fix as well." No operating system vendor in its right mind would walk away from that proposition--unless they were more concerned with keeping control of the code and wringing money from it. That didn't work for Solaris, and there may come a day when it doesn't work for Microsoft's Windows. The Linux model of open development and commercialized support provides all the benefits of a proprietary operating system and opens up new possibilities. Sun has to let go, of course, and that was not easy. It took a changing of the executive guard at Sun to get this done, and even then, it still took many years. But, having gone open source, Solaris development should speed up. "Now, we're getting feedback a lot faster and a lot earlier in the development cycle than we used to get," says Stephen Harpster, director of open source software in the Solaris organization.
OpenSolaris is still a work in progress, however. Harpster says that Sun has finally chosen a source code management system, called Mercurial, which is in beta test and is delivering source code in read-only form right now. Mercurial will be operational by the end of the year, and when it is, the amount of contributions from the outside world will increase significantly, he predicts. Right now, to make contributions, the 14,000 members of the OpenSolaris community have to have a Sun engineer buddy who can review the code on the other side of the Sun firewall and post it into the Sun code management system. There are only 1,500 OpenSolaris community members inside Sun, compared to 12,500 members outside of Sun. Which means there are only so many patches and projects that can be pumped through the OpenSolaris project. Once Mercurial is running, a lot more members of the community will be able to put code through the scrubbers and help get it added to the development release of the Unix platform. Perhaps most importantly, Harpster says that Mercurial is a distributed code repository, which will allow code to be spread around the world on different servers and accessible to users coming from many networks, but will be managed centrally.
As part of the birthday celebrations for OpenSolaris, Sun released a bunch of statistics to describe the project. The project has over 39,300 postings in its discussion groups and has distributed more than 33,000 instances of OpenSolaris. (And just to be clear, OpenSolaris is not the same thing as the freely distributed, but compiled, Solaris 10 operating system, which has close to 5 million registered downloads in its 18 months of shipment.) Ratcliffe says that Sun has no idea how many instances of OpenSolaris have been distributed through peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent. To date, the OpenSolaris community has reported 440 bugs in the future "Nevada" Solaris release and have fixed 147 bugs. The community has donated 170 pieces of code and 100 of them have been accepted into the development release so far. OpenSolaris also has 30 user groups worldwide, and 32 universities are using OpenSolaris in their curriculum (the target was 10 universities, by the way). Sun has also fostered 40 student evangelists to talk up the virtues of Solaris at these universities, and hopes to have 100 by next year.
Solaris 10 is comprised of approximately 5 million lines of code, Harpster estimates, and about 90 percent of it has been released as open source through OpenSolaris. The remaining code is device drivers, which Harpster says third party peripheral suppliers are sometimes reluctant to put out as open source, and a smattering of third party code from companies that are no longer in business.
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