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Sun Announces OpenSolaris Board Members

Sun Microsystems this week named the advisory board that will steer its nascent OpenSolaris developer community toward self-governance.

The formation of the five-member OpenSolaris Community Advisory Board (CAB) is the next step in the process of open-sourcing Sun’s Solaris 10 operating system, the company said. Sun has promised to release a buildable version of the OS’s source code under the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) before the end of June.

Sun kept its promise to limit the number of its own employees on the board. Two Sun people will serve: well-known, Bay Area-based open-source evangelist Simon Phipps, and senior Solaris engineer Casper Dik, who is based in Holland.

“I’ve always been very keen to see Sun shift to open-source models for as much of its software as possible,” Phipps said in an interview at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco. He sees OpenSolaris as a great step forward for Sun, a commitment of its “crown jewels” to create an open-source community. “I think it’ll do huge good for Sun, because it will mean that Sun is now working with a community of craftspeople or artisans who are sharing in common what they need to create wealth,” he said. “And as each member of that community creates wealth...it will increase the good for the whole community. I think that’s exactly the model we’ll see in all successful software in coming decades.”

Two board members were elected by the OpenSolaris pilot community. Rich Teer is an independent Solaris consultant and author of Solaris Systems Programming (Prentice Hall, 2005). Al Hopper is an engineer consultant with Logical Approach; he was one of the Secret Six, a group of Solaris-on-Intel users elected on the discussion boards to meet with Sun about restarting Solaris x86.

The board will be chaired by its most famous member: Roy Fielding, co-founder and director of the Apache Foundation. Fielding, whose serves as chief scientist at Day Software, was also the primary architect of the current Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP/1.1). He co-wrote the Internet standards for HTTP and Uniform Resource Identifiers.

The key to developing a successful open-source project is building a successful community, Fielding told AppTrends. “It’s about getting the community to the point where people take pride in what they’re doing, they identify with the project and they have the responsibility and authority for making technical decisions,” he said. “It’s about getting them to the point where they are effectively operating on their own and are able to make the decisions that result in a fast-driving, interesting, technologically competitive project. That’s when you get something that outstrips anything any single vendor could produce.”

The greatest initial challenge for the board, Fielding said, will be “getting to the point where the OpenSolaris community is truly independent from its original sponsor.” His biggest concern at the outset is “Sun loving the project to death, wanting to help it so much that it ends up overpowering the independence.”

To keep Sun from over-mothering the fledgling OpenSolaris community, the board plans to set up a clear set of guidelines for how the community makes decisions, introduces new projects and terminates old ones, Fielding said. A clear governance structure will also show non-Sun programmers how to participate. Transparency is also important; the board plans to conduct its work in the open, on public mailing lists, Fielding said.

Not surprisingly, most of the members of the OpenSolaris pilot community are Sun employees currently working on the software. Fielding acknowledged the risk of internal Sun politics influencing the direction of the project, but he pointed out that Sun’s decision to create the board shows its commitment to launching a developer community that is truly independent.

“Individuals [in the community] will still be primarily from Sun,” he said, “because Sun has the largest vested interest in the code base, and the greatest interest in seeing the software continue as a platform. When [the developers] start thinking of themselves first as OpenSolaris contributors and then as Sun employees, that’s when we’ll have a truly open and participatory environment.”

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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