"Opening Day" for Sun's OpenSolaris

Sun Microsystems officially released to open source the "lion's share" of its Solaris operating system source code—approximately five million lines, including the kernel, networking stack, libraries and commands for the Solaris 10 OS. The kernel includes features such as predictive self-healing and containers for isolating an application within the OS.

Sun executives made the announcement during a conference call with reporters and analysts on Tuesday, which the company dubbed "Opening Day."

"This, as you can imagine, is a very big day for us at Sun Microsystems and particularly so for those of us in the Solaris community," Sun VP Tom Goguen said during the call.

That community currently consists of about 500 Sun employees who have worked on, or contributed to, Solaris 10, Stephen Harpster, Sun's director of open-source software, told AppTrends. Some work on Solaris full time; other groups are just integrating drivers. “We don’t distinguish between those who work on Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris,” Harpster says. “As far as we’re concerned, one is the same as the other.”

Sun began talking about the possibility of opensourcing its proprietary operating system back in 2000. It wasn't until 2004 that Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz finally declared that his company would publish the OS as an open-source project. In January, Sun released the first Solaris 10 component to open source: a dynamic tracing framework called DTrace, designed for network troubleshooting and system performance tuning in real time.

OpenSolaris is available under an open-source license developed by Sun. The Common Development and Distribution License is a "direct descendant" of the 1.1 version of the Mozilla Public License. Linux uses the General Public License, which Sun's CEO Jonathan Schwartz has called unfair and “predatory.” The company created the CDDL to free developers from the obligation to give their new code back to the developers of OpenSolaris, Schwartz says.

Sun also officially launched the Web site, which it hopes will serve as a gathering place for a thriving developer community. The site is designed to be a place where users and developers can go to download code, discuss the project and access a bug database. The site currently contains the OpenSolaris roadmap, documentation, developer contact information, a source-code search tool, a bug database, mailing lists and blog links, and build tools.

Still to come over the next few months: device drivers, the installer, administrative tools, and test suites.

Sun is counting on the quality of the Solaris technology to appeal to developers, who will "innovate on the OS," and low cost of a virtually free OS to expand the installed base, says Harpster.

"Sun has not historically made money on Solaris," he says. "For us, it’s very much loss leader for the system—for the sheet metal, the services, the support and everything in that ecosystem. But while we don’t make any money off the OS itself, innovation in the OS does drive adoption of the platform, and consequently, revenue for Sun. It's the same thing as a grocer who sells hotdog buns at a deep discount to sell more hotdogs."

“People have pointed out that a customer could run OpenSolaris across their organization without ever giving Sun a nickel,” adds Bryan Cantrill, senior staff engineer in Sun’s Solaris kernel development group. “And that’s true. You could buy x86 hardware from Dell or HP or IBM. You could take OpenSolaris and run it without a support contract or with a support contract from a third party. You could refuse even to entertain the notion of buying the JES [Java Enterprise Suite] or any other Sun product. But this mythical customer who might run OpenSolaris and not give a nickel to Sun isn’t giving a nickel to Sun today. That customer today is running [Red Hat’s Linux OS] Fedora. So we’re left with a choice: do we want that customer running Fedora or OpenSolaris? We want to drive mindshare, to create bigger markets for our ISVs and partners, and OpenSolaris is going to do that, and in the process, drive incremental revenue for Sun.”

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].