January 24, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Sun poised to take open-source Solaris step
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their (Linux) distribution, what opportunity is Sun going have?" asked Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.
But Sun President and chief agitator Jonathan Schwartz is unflagging in his efforts. And he makes it clear the fundamental motivation is Sun's bottom line through reaching new customers.
"To the extent we're positioning Sun to start growing new customers, all such opportunities start, at some point, through a conversation. Typically with a developer," Schwartz said in his blog this month.
Red Hat, for one, is skeptical. "It's hard getting people to follow the banner. They've got to prove that there's significant value there," said Greg Dekoenigsberg, Red Hat's community relations manager.
Sun has its own rebuttals to Red Hat. For one thing, Solaris x86 will be free to those who just want the software and security fixes, a contrast to Red Hat's current practice with its premium Linux version.Sun's open-source BSD roots
Open-source operating systems aren't totally alien to Sun. Unix got its start at AT&T, but Sun co-founder Bill Joy was instrumental in an open-source variant developed at the University of California at Berkeley. For half the company's history, Sun used this BSD version of Unix in a product called SunOS.
In the 1990s, Sun switched from SunOS to Solaris, which was based instead on the Unix software Sun licensed from AT&T.
So how is it Sun is permitted to open source Unix outright while IBM is sued for more than $5 billion in damages? Sun is mum on particulars, but it has said it licensed additional rights in a 2003 deal in which it paid SCO $9.3 million.
Though SCO's suits are about breach of contract and copyright violation, they have raised the prospect of litigation against the freewheeling Linux realm. Thus one perk Sun is offering: It won't sue open-source developers for using its Solaris-related patents in open-source software, and it will provide legal protection for Solaris developers and customers even after it becomes open-source software.
Sources familiar with Sun's plans expect it to release Solaris under the control of the Common Development and Distribution License. Earlier in January, the CDDL earned official open-source license status--not a great surprise, given that it was derived from the existing Mozilla Public License.
The CDDL prevents Sun from sharing code with Linux and vice versa, but there are other areas where Sun can profit from existing open-source software. For example, an upcoming version of Solaris x86 likely will use GRUB--the Grand Unified Bootloader software that Linux uses to let people select which operating system they'd like to use when they turn on their computers. Others have made sure Mozilla, OpenOffice and other applications are available.
Self-inflicted Solaris x86 wounds
When it comes to the task of building a new development community, Sun, in part, has itself to blame. In 2002, when the company was in the midst of a three-year run of declining revenues, it tried to cut development expenses by putting its x86 version on ice. Even at that time, Sun didn't sell x86 servers, and the x86 version of Solaris was a second-class citizen. When Sun boasted of its focused energies--how it put all the wood behind one arrowhead--it meant the best foundation for Solaris was its UltraSparc servers.
"The last time I used it, the Intel version sucked," Gilman said.
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