June 14, 2005 4:51 PM PDT

Solaris engineers offer personal source-code tours

Sun Microsystems chose to employ the human touch when it introduced more than 5 million lines of Solaris source code onto the Internet on Tuesday.

The ambassadors are dozens of Sun programmers who published blog entries for the OpenSolaris launch, sharing personal stories from deep within the Solaris project. The firsthand accounts ranged from Liane Praza's first bug fix to Bryan Cantrill's "Sewer Tour" of some deeply buried Solaris plumbing.

Another programmer, Keith Wesolowski, described Sun's ups and downs trying to adapt Solaris so developers could build it with the open-source GCC compiler and not just Sun's own "Vulcan" programming tools. He also invited outsiders to come fix more than 300 "very small" bugs.

Sun also is using fashionable software to further the OpenSolaris agenda. OpenSolaris blog entries incorporate tags for easy indexing on the Technorati blog-tracking site. And the OpenSolaris source code is available through the BitTorrent file-sharing service--a sharp reversal from Sun's typical practice of requiring a user to register then download code from Sun's own Web site.

Sun deserves credit for the geek-centric approach, said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady. "The best aspect of it for me is seeing a rather large software organization actually recognize the audience they want to be speaking to--in this case the developers."

Sun hopes to create a vibrant programming community around Solaris, an operating system that's been under assault from Linux--which has been open-source software from its inception--as well as from Windows and IBM's AIX, which has been gaining Unix market share. More Solaris developers, Sun hopes, will lead to more Solaris software and users and more Sun server customers.

Making OpenSolaris open-source software means that anyone can download, modify and redistribute the software without having to pay any fees. Sun is keeping the Solaris trademark, though, and sells annual support subscriptions for its certified version.

Though OpenSolaris is off to a good start, the longer-term challenge for Sun will be creating an OpenSolaris project that's not overwhelmingly dominated by Sun programmers, O'Grady said. If that happens, it will be "a long time down the road," O'Grady said.

Feeding developers' appetites for detail is evidently a top priority. There's ample information on the overhauled OpenSolaris Web site: feature details, a road map, developer contact information, a source code search tool, a bug database and mailing lists.

Though OpenSolaris is dominated by Sun programmers, the site has adopted a voice that distances the project from its founding company. "We are independent. Decisions within the project are made independently from those concerning Sun's business. Sun's management controls the business aspects of the Solaris product but will not exert undue influence within the OpenSolaris community," the site said.

Frequent OpenSolaris updates
OpenSolaris will feature frequent releases--a method similar to what Linux seller Red Hat established in 2003 with its Fedora project. In a note Tuesday to a Solaris mailing list, Sun programmer Alan Coopersmith said OpenSolaris will release these updates in versions called the Solaris Express Community Editions.

Sun already lets people try out early versions of Solaris through its regular Solaris Express program. The Solaris Express Community Edition versions will be one step more raw, though, Coopersmith said: "These come from the same release train as the existing Solaris Express releases, they just release faster and more often for people building, working on, debugging or testing the OpenSolaris code."

One interested programmer is Octave Orgeron, a 25-year-old programmer who once worked at Sun and who now is involved in Solaris 10 projects at Barclays Global Investors. He also builds Solaris versions of open-source software such as the Vim and Emacs editors.

"I'm planning on testing it out on my Netra at home and a couple of Ultra2's at work," he said in an e-mail. He thinks Sun handled the OpenSolaris debut well for the most part--though he added, "I think the launch could have used a little more publicity."

And Wesolowski, who tried to ensnare programmers with the 300 GCC-related bugs, has had some nibbles. "I've had some people ask in IRC (Internet Relay Chat) about building with GCC and fixing some of the bugs," he said. But for now, "It's early--a lot of people are still just asking questions and trying to digest all the information."

Loiacono starts blogging
But the festivities haven't been just among the rank and file. John Loiacono, executive vice president of Sun's software group and the second-highest-ranking executive after Jonathan Schwartz, launched his blog Tuesday. "Open source is the methodology of this massively connected era," Loiacono said in the blog.

A lower-level executive view came from Glenn Weinberg, a 16-year Sun employee, a vice president in Sun's operating systems group, and a key employee in the creation of the Community Development and Distribution License that governs OpenSolaris. He described the challenge of vetting the OpenSolaris code.

"Going back and finding the provenance of every line of code in Solaris was, to put it mildly, hard," Weinberg said. "Whenever we found code that belonged to someone else, we either had to get their approval to release it as open source (assuming they still existed and we could find them), find an alternative, rewrite it or decide to release it as binary only."

There's plenty more vetting to be done. Though Sun released core parts of Solaris on Tuesday--much of the kernel and network components--the next three months will expand that and add code for encryption, a graphical interface, full-fledged GCC support and storage equipment.

In three to six months, Sun plans to release more core components and a tool used to manage source code. In the quarter after that come test suites and automated building and testing. Three months after that will be installation and some administration tools.

 

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