Sun Weighs Open-Source Options

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2004-04-02 Print this article Print

Open-source community may be invited to 'lead the next level of development' of Looking Glass, the company's next-generation 3-D windowing system.

MENLO PARK, Calif.—Sun Microsystems Inc. is pondering the possibility of open-sourcing more of its software—this time with its next-generation 3-D windowing system, called Project Looking Glass, which is under development.

When completed, Looking Glass will allow a new user experience through three-dimensional windowing capabilities on the desktop, making communications and collaboration easier. The software will work with Linux, Solaris and Java applications, running in the X Window System, said Hideya Kawahara, Sun senior staff engineer, at the companys executive briefing center here this week.

The Looking Glass development team is working on a software development kit for the project that it hopes will draw in developers. "The SDK should be available by the middle of the year. We are also discussing how to evolve Looking Glass going forward," Kawahara said.

One option, he said, is to "let the Linux and open-source communities lead the next level of development."

Sun of Santa Clara, Calif., is in talks with groups in the open-source community about Looking Glass, although no formal or final decisions have been made, Kawahara said. Sun is also hoping to integrate some components of Looking Glass into the GNOME desktop, he said.

Novell Inc. has announced plans to make one common Novell Linux desktop from Gnomes and KDEs best features. Click here to read more. John Fowler, Suns chief technology officer for software, said the company is willing to share the Looking Glass intellectual property with the open-source community, although questions remain within Sun about which part of the community to involve and how to control the product afterward.

That concern about controlling the direction of open-source contributions is at the heart of the communitys frustration with Sun and its strategy on the open-sourcing of Java and Solaris.

Earlier this year, open-source advocate Eric Raymond called for Sun to open-source Java and to relax its control over it so developers could take advantage. Raymond called Suns support for open source "curiously inconsistent" and "spotty."

Click here to read about other open-source advocates views on open-sourcing Java. Some users, such as John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC of Phoenix, also expressed skepticism. "I question Suns commitment to open source for the express reason of Java," he said. "They seem very two-minded lately about open source."

Asked whether Sun was considering open-sourcing the entire 20 million lines of Solaris code, Fowler said there are a lot of Solaris components already available as open source. "We do look at all of our technologies and what it takes to successfully get to volume and what the tactics might be to go and do that," Fowler said. "Open source is clearly one, but the question is, who would be the community, and what would that community then build around it?"

Check out eWEEK.coms Linux & Open Source Center at for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis. Be sure to add our Linux news feed to your RSS newsreader or My Yahoo page:  
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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