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Sun ‘Aggressive’ on Open Source Solaris

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SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems said it will take an ”aggressive” approach to opening up the source code of its core operating system. It just isn’t saying when.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based network computer maker fended off questions from reporters and analysts Tuesday during a briefing centered on the major developments for Solaris 10. The enterprise platform is scheduled for a September 2004 launch date to coincide with the shipment of Sun’s next generation Java Enterprise System.

Earlier this month, top executives confirmed Sun’s long-rumored intentions to release parts of Solaris to the open source community similar to the way that Linux, Apache and other open source projects are available. Ann Wettersten, Sun vice president of systems software marketing, said the movement is not only supported within the company but Sun customers are ”very positive in opening up Solaris.”

”The concerns and open source questions we hear from customers is along the same questions any company would get in opening up anything to the GPL [GNU General Public License],” Wettersten said. ”We have to make sure we are doing the right thing for the community and the right thing for the customers.”

Sun Senior staff engineer Bryan Cantrill mirrored Wettersten’s comments saying, ”Technically, it is not a problem to do this.”

”We’re moving on an aggressive schedule,” he said. ”We’re engineers and we’ve written the cleanest code and we can’t wait to share it with the world.”

What’s The Holdup?

”On a practical level, Sun would have to figure out how they will open source it, under what organization and what licensing model,” Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis, recently told

”That would make a big difference if it is accepted as a true open source product. If Sun retains too much control, that would turn off some open source advocates and possible converts to Solaris. Sun would face a bigger challenge in figuring out how to price this, and price its other products so they can make a sustainable profit. It could be that support contracts will make this a minor issue, but it is also true that third parties could bundle an open source Solaris with cheap hardware and basically eat into Sun’s business. Again, it depends on Sun’s definition of open source [and open distribution].”

Sun has many options including a modified GNU General Public License like Linux or some other type of variant of the Public License process. But even if Sun is capable in resolving the issue of licenses, Stacey Quandt, principal analyst of Quandt Analytics, points out there are still issues against success, such as customers choosing to stay the course with Solaris rather than migrate to Linux.

”First, this comes three years too late due to the significant adoption of Linux,” Quandt told

Linux on Intel is a volume market, while the contributions [to] the Linux 2.6 kernel make Linux a 64-bit alternative to Unix. Many customers in financial services migrated away from Sun because of the cost of underutilized Solaris/SPARC systems.

”Even more important is the inability of Sun to adequately address the issue of freedom of lock-in from a single vendor. Most Linux customers appreciate the ability to choose from multiple Linux distributions and take back control from lock-in to a single IT vendor. A further issue is how will Sun work with customers to integrate patches and changes back to the Solaris kernel. If customers make changes to the Solaris kernel will they end up having to support these changes? If so, will Solaris customers truly care if it is available as an open source operating system?”

Wettersten’s reply: ”Openness fuels innovation.”

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