May 9, 2007 12:44 PM PDT

Sun hopes for Linux-like Solaris

SAN FRANCISCO--In an effort to spur adoption of Solaris, Sun Microsystems has begun a project code-named Indiana to try to give its operating system some of the trappings of Linux.

The project is one of the items on the to-do list of Ian Murdock, founder of the Debian version of Linux and, as of March, Sun's chief operating systems officer. Though he wouldn't confirm the name of the project, Murdock--who's from Indiana--discussed the project's essence at the JavaOne conference here Monday, and Sun spokesman Russ Castronovo confirmed the name.

Sun has been trying for years to restore the luster of Solaris, a version of Unix that peaked in popularity in the late 1990s, but that since has faced a strong challenge chiefly from Linux. Sun has worked to reinvigorate Solaris by boosting its performance, offering it as a free download, making it an open-source project called OpenSolaris, and pushing a version that runs on servers using Intel's and AMD's mainstream x86 processors.

Linux and Solaris are cousins that stem from the same Unix heritage, if not from the same source code. But Linux fans simply have a hard time trying Solaris, Murdock said Tuesday.

"It's too unfamiliar. There's a gulf," Murdock said in an interview. "We need to make it familiar to people who know Linux inside and out."

Sun is smart to try to bridge the gap, said RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady. It would solve Solaris' problems, ease people's transitions from Linux to Solaris, and save Sun efforts in reinventing the wheel.

"How do you reach areas where you're falling short? By leveraging pre-existing technology. That's the open-source way," said O'Grady, an Ubuntu Linux user who found Solaris harder than it needed to be.

"It's too unfamiliar. There's a gulf...We need to make it familiar to people who know Linux inside and out."
--Ian Murdock, Sun's chief operating systems officer

Project Indiana has the attention of Sun Chief Executive Jonathan Schwartz, who dangled the Project Indiana name before blog readers last week, saying Sun employees are asking about it but that Murdock said it's still secret.

Programmers, who today often use Linux, are an influential group that Sun wants to reach: "The developer desktop is the gateway to so many interesting places where Sun makes its money," Murdock said. "Sun needs to have a better experience for developer workstations, which means laptops."

Basic operations, such as the "ls" command to see a listing of files in a directory, behave differently in Solaris, and Solaris lacks Linux tools for packaging, downloading and installing software such as Debian's apt-get, Murdock said. And Linux's installation process is much better than that of Solaris, in part because of better hardware support, he said.

Sun wants to embrace some Linux elements so "we make Solaris a better Linux than Linux," Murdock said, quoting Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, whose latest start-up, Ning, uses Solaris.

People are interested in Solaris technology such as DTrace, which lets administrators peer deeply into running software to uncover performance bottlenecks, and ZFS, file system software designed to make storage systems more reliable and easier to manage. But good luck to Linux fans trying to kick the tires.

"Even if you're spectacularly interested in these technologies, you can get derailed quickly," O'Grady said. One gripe in particular is Solaris' "20-year-old shell," basic command-line interface software that doesn't even support keyboards' backspace key, he said.

Linux has the advantage over Solaris when it comes to hardware support, Murdock said. But there's a barrier to code-sharing between the two projects: currently, the core "kernel" software of Solaris and Linux is under different open-source licenses, meaning that software from one project generally can't be moved to the other.

However, Schwartz has talked frequently of the possibility of releasing Solaris under the GPL that governs Linux, which--if both operating systems use the same version of the GPL--would theoretically permit code sharing.

There are technological limits to cross-pollination between the two operating systems as well; Linux driver software to support a particular piece of hardware can't simply be copied to Solaris to enable support. But Murdock believes it would be possible to plug in such support through the use of "shim" software that could smooth over the interface mismatch.

It's a tricky balance to adopt elements of Linux while preserving Solaris technology and advantages such as the promise of backward compatibility, which guarantees old software will run on new versions of Solaris.

"As we make Solaris more familiar to Linux users, we don't (want to) lose what makes it more compelling and competitive," Murdock said.

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17 comments

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Good luck with that
I still remember the days where Sun engineers where laughing at XFree86, compared to their "superior" X server and their CDE (back when Linux had fvwm).
Few days ago I had to install Solaris 10 on X4100 machine. Boy, that was a nightmare. Someone at Sun should really take either SuSE or RedHat based distribution and compare their installation, comfiguration and first time usages compared to Solaris, which make Solaris looks really arcane! where's the standards in packaging? packaging paths? some default customizations? easy tools for configurations? some more sane ways to config network on 2+ network cards?

Sun engineers: get yourself a Linux distribution and see whats you're missing for the last 10 years! here's a hint: sticking X.org and GNOME doesn't cut it!
Posted by hetzbh (43 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My opinion
Same as yours, just switch:

- "Solaris" for "Linux";

- "Linux" for "Windows".

There you have it. :)
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
If Sun wants a Linux like OS that bad
why not just license a distro of Linux and start adding in Solaris features to it? Call it Solarix or something. Pick Unbuntu or Fedora, they are two popular distros.

Keep Solaris for those SPARCStations and other systems that Sun sells, and offer Solarix to the PC and Mac users who want a Linux-like OS.

Oh by the way, remember that OpenDesktop that Sun/HP/Next worked on with OpenStep, why don't Sun make a deal with Apple to license Aqua and other Desktop aspects of OSX, like it did with Next before Apple bought out Next?
Posted by Orion Blastar (590 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why mess with Solaris anymore?
I used Solaris x86 around 10 years ago in a production system - not because I really wanted too, but because it was the only SVR4 operating system who's DigiBoard drivers wouldn't crash it. My experience was with System V at the time and Linux really wasn't quite up to the task yet. Frankly, I didn't mind it at the time and was quite happy with it.

Ironically it was just this weekend that I thought I'd install it and give it a whirl. So I downloaded the latest x86 DVD and installed it in VMWare.

Now, I'm not a GUI person when it comes to my Unix-like operating systems. But - OH MY GOD - talk about bringing back old memories. What is this... old-school Motif? Give me a break.

My impression is, why mess with this? There's simply no reason anymore to run Solaris when you have better alternatives such as Linux or even Windows.

Unless you have an application that requires Solaris for whatever reason, you're better off with something else.
Posted by ironbyghte (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There's always a reason for Solaris!
Being a Solaris native of old myself, I really wouldn't throw
Windows in the same league as Solaris; definitely two different
operating systems tackling two different market segments and
exactly why you'll find Windows in one place and Solaris in
another place. Solaris has always had a great reputation for a
solid workhorse of a Unix environment; basically taking the best
of BSD and System V and building what could be considered the
best of the best in the Unix world. Linux is definitely making
great headway, but still has a ways to go before stacking up to
the more mature code base of Solaris.

As far as Motif and CDE in general; a great desktop environment
that stagnated. It certainly made desktops like Mac and
Windows look like toys when put side by side back in the day,
too bad it's hey day is over :-(
Posted by JuggerNaut (860 comments )
Link Flag
Have they heard, if you cant beat them, join them?
If they are going to waste there time, why dont they try to make a new linux version,with whatever they one from solaris on it? Maybe they create a more solid, secure, etc version that people will actually use.
Posted by yacahuma (530 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sun Is Awefully Late To The Table
Just what the world needs, another Linux distro. What compelling reason does Sun have to enter an already crowded market? So they're going to make revenue from a free OS? Great strategy. It seems to me that Sun has just run out of new ideas. What's next, a makeover for CPM?
Posted by Stating (869 comments )
Reply Link Flag
os/x not linux already has the Solaris goodies! (ZFS + Dtrace)
yes, solaris is cool & opensolaris is a good thing -

but it is os/x not linux that delivers these tasty morsels - like
zfs & dtrace - into developers hands (first, and not by using
workarounds).

it is especuially ironic (and wishful thinking) on the part of sun's
management to think linux will deliver developer mindshare to
them -- when all the cool cats at sun are already using mac
laptops! ;-) let alone all the groovey folks in ruby land etc etc.

yes, driver support for linux is getting better but it is nowhere
NEAR as pervasive as mac support - so linux is still not the
optimum platform that gives an oem like sun access to
developer's hearts & minds.

it is useful to observe that - with RARE exception - it is linux
that brorrows ideas from its unix big brothers (solaris, bsd etc).
linux is not a value-added platform ... it is merely the lowest
common denominator.

should other (technically) serious unices (like darwin & solaris)
offer more compatibility with their kid brother, linux - sure!

but sun should take note that it is others - eg ibm & oracle -
that make big money from delivery java solutions, not sun from
its java licenses ... the same is true for unix: apple makes loads
from selling a solution on top of a great infrastructure, not the
nots & bolts itself.

sun is to be commended for being more aggresive with java &
solaris --- but it wont make incremental profit from either
unless they are part of coherent & cohesive platform.

'java everywhere' does not mean alot when web services can
deliver solutions (albeit relatively simple ones) that are as
platform agnostic as java is (supposed to be) much more
lightweight.

solaris (and java) should look at how corba failed to deliver
pervasive success because it did not attatch itself to a 'killer
app'.

ibm, microsoft, apple, oracle (and one day google) all fill out
their software stacks so they can create eco-systems around
their platforms - SUN needs to do the same.
Posted by zahadum (28 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Right On!
I believe that Sun's Solaris + Java infrastructure is the best platform available for serious business uses.

But Apple's OS X is the best development platform available by far. Mainly because of that stellar UI on a rock solid foundation.

Sun could learn quite a lot from Apple's approach.
Posted by EmbSysPro (57 comments )
Link Flag
Eco-systems
Apple definitely doesn't belong in the group of IBM, Microsoft and Oracle. At least Microsoft makes sure as much software and hardware works with Windows and gives people freedom to change change and configure their computers as they wish. Apple is almost the opposite (just look at the iPod / iTunes eco-system).
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
Solaris vs. OS X
I used Solaris on Sun Sparc Machines and Ultra 1 and Ultra 2 like
in 2000, right before the .dot bubble popped. I still remember
the .dot commercials that Sun used to air, I still remember the
$70 per share stock price, now it's like around $7 or something.

One of the things that I learned when I used to trade on the
stock exchange is that, majority rules, whatever the majority is
thinking, one would be pretty stupid to bet against the numbers.

Unless Sun makes some inroads into the Solaris soon, they will
not be around or be substantially smaller into the future. Their
hardware is great! - and I liked Solaris at the time of using it,
but they just move slow - compared to the rest of the market.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Reply Link Flag
and OS X
as far as I am concerned is the best OS that I have worked with.
I can do so many things all at the same time and my machine
don't freeze or crash, nothing!

For $2000 I bought a 64-bit machine that can take up to 16GIG
of ram and few PCs can claim that in the same rank. I been
using computer since my first one which was a diskless IBM PC
Jr, I loked the keyboard and the memory bricks that you had to
screw on the side of the computer to add RAM. OS X is the best
to date from my experiance of using it all, almost all.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Link Flag
OpenSolaris isn't trying to be Linux-like--it's just using GNU utilities, which pre-date Linux and are also used by *BSD and other UNIX and UNIX-like OSs. Linux didn't invent GNU utilities, but were borrowed to complete the picture.

Solaris has strengths on it's own, such as ZFS filesystem features of commit/rollback, RAID, and live upgrade, and dtrace for debugging/diagnostics/performance tuning.
Posted by danxy (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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