Sun Updates Open Source Roadmap

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Some of the top promoters and leaders of open source projects gathered at Sun Microsystems Monday to update press and analysts on the company’s growing list of projects and initiatives.

Long criticized as a company that benefited from many open source projects without giving back in kind, and hounded to make its Java language open source, Sun has abruptly shifted course in the last year under new CEO Jonathan Schwartz.

Now its Solaris operating system, Java language and even SPARC processors are open source and under the General Public License (GPL). Quite a change for the company that said there’s still a lot more it plans to do.

One of its To Do list items is to make Solaris easier to distribute. Linux has had packages for distributing bits of compiled code for years, first under the RPM technology developer by Red Hat Linux and then via Yum or App-Get.

Ian Murdock, who created the Debian Linux distribution back in the 1990s, was hired by Sun earlier this year to help with such an effort. He also told the assembly that his hiring was meant to send the message that Sun is Linux-friendly.

“There’s a broad perception that Sun is anti-Linux or competes with Linux, and that’s not true,” said Murdock, now chief operating systems platform strategist. “So to have someone with a broad Linux background come into Sun made sense.”

His project, called Project Indiana (a nod to his home state) will be an attempt to give OpenSolaris, and eventually the enterprise version of Solaris, a faster, easier and safer way to update the code. It’s also intended to lower the barriers to adoption so those familiar with Linux can move to OpenSolaris, said Murdock.

Murdock pointed out that Yum and App-Get are several years old now and have some shortcomings. Namely, they don’t allow you to rollback an installation if there is a problem. Sun’s solution is IPS, or Image Package System.

IPS will do exactly as RPM, Yum and App-Get do in that it will download updates to the operating system, thereby eliminating the need for updates via CD or having to download source code and compile it. It will update a Solaris installation with any new code, check for dependencies and download that code as well, and install it all for the user. It’s integrated with Sun’s ZFS file system to take snapshots of an installation and roll it back if necessary.

Murdock said the first developer preview will be posted to by the end of the month and expects the final version to be available in March of next year. While it’s meant for Solaris and will utilize Solaris features, it will also be available for other open source operating systems, it just won’t have the versatility without ZFS support.

Next to speak was Josh Berkus, the project lead for PostgreSQL, an open source database that’s trying to catch up not only to the more established MySQL but commercial packages like SQL Server and Oracle as well. It’s updated annually, with beta 1 of version 8.3 released last week and the final version due in seven to nine weeks.

PostgreSQL can trace its roots back 21 years, to the POSTGRES project at the University of California, Berkeley. It was created as the successor to the Ingres database and commercialized in 1994 under the name Illustra, which later merged with Informix. It went open source in 1995.

Berkus said surveys found it wasn’t performance holding back PostgreSQL from taking more of the database market from packaged software firms, rather it was training and knowledge. There was a serious lack of support for the product, of tools to support it and knowledge out there for those interested in using it, he said.

Berkus identified the missing pieces as a lack of worldwide support, performance that was fast but not consistent and a lack of enterprise-quality scalability and reliability. So Sun’s efforts in that area have been to focus on high availability and improved performance, as well as ZFS integration.

The third briefing came from Mark Reinhold, chief engineer for the Java SE platform and a lead engineer for OpenJDK, the open source Java Development Kit being used to port Java to numerous platforms.

He said the interim governance board for the OpenJDK community has met three times so far and is making good progress. They would like to get a constitution for the OpenJDK community out for review later this year and ratified some time next year.

One of the problems slowing down the complete availability of Java as open source is that some pieces of code are not owned by Sun and could not be released. Therefore, Sun and the community had to develop its own replacements, and those are not trivial tasks. Reinhold said Sun currently has early versions of the font rasterizer done, a cryptography component and the graphics rasterizer, which is in a pretty raw state.

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