Solaris Goes Open Source

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-09-20 Print this article Print

Sun is banking on the open-sourcing of Solaris to drive a software turnaround.

When Solaris 10 is released late this year, Sun Microsystems Inc. will be culminating years of development work on the operating system, as well as launching a major open-source initiative to go with it.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company is on track to deliver on a new strategy, conceived some six years ago, of developing and selling Solaris but also offering the code to the open-source community, Sun executives told eWEEK in interviews last week.

Suns goal is to use the open-sourcing of Solaris to drive a turnaround of the companys software business, which has lost mind share, if not market share, in the Linux and Windows crossfire. Sun wants to foster a better internal software development process, work more closely with the community and then be able to drive innovation outside its own walls, increasing Solaris penetration and pushing it into new markets, executives said.

But Sun still has to clear a few hurdles before opening Solaris by years end. The company has to ensure that it has the legal permissions necessary to make each line of code available, including the Unix kernel on which its based. This onerous process could ultimately delay the release of the open-source program when Solaris 10 is ready to ship commercially, which is scheduled for December, officials said.

Click here for eWEEK Labs early look at Solaris 10. If it isnt ready, it wouldnt be the first delay in the battle to open Solaris.

Sun considered the possibility of opening Solaris in 1998, but that move was met with such resistance internally and was fraught with so many legal and technical difficulties that the idea was shelved. It was resuscitated around 2000 with the Solaris 8 Foundation Source Program, but while that made the source code more accessible under certain conditions, it was a far cry from true open source.

Then, about a year ago, the idea was brought up again by a Sun braintrust including Jonathan Schwartz, now Suns president and chief operating officer; John Loiacono, now Suns executive vice president for software; Glenn Weinberg, vice president of Suns Operating Platforms Group; and Tim Marsland, Suns chief technology officer for the Operating Platforms Group.

Along the way, they had to fight layers of resistance—even from inside their company. "When I brought the matter up with the Solaris kernel engineering team a year or so ago, their response was, What? How are you going to do that and protect our intellectual property?" Loiacono told eWEEK last week.

But after the team explained its vision and got people involved in the dialogue, the engineers became eager to see their code made open, he said.

Click here to read the full interview with Loiacono. Many Sun partners and customers are now welcoming the move toward openness. Ben Williams, vice president of Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s enterprise and server workstation business, said Suns embrace of open source strengthened its partnership with the company. AMD, of Sunnyvale, Calif., also views Solaris as a key component of its overall Opteron chip-set strategy.

Matthew Leeds, vice president of operations with Gracenote LLC, of Emeryville, Calif., runs Solaris on both x86 and SPARC hardware and on Linux. Gracenote, which supplies information about music and digital media to third parties such as Apple Computer Inc. and RealNetworks Inc., has more than 30 million users a month.

"We are a 24-by-7 service that deals with lots of continuous transactions, so we have to be up all the time. We looked at Linux first, but after lots and lots of heavy digging, we found that the threading library in Linux was just not up to the task for our volume database," Leeds said. By contrast, Solaris proved essential in that middle-tier volume transactional database of some 20 Solaris x86 boxes. Opening the platform gives him new flexibility, Leeds said.

Next page: Satisfying the open-source community.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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