The future of the operating system took center stage at the Open Source Business Conference here March 25, as a panel of vendor representatives debated the topic.
Dirk Hohndel, the chief Linux and open-source technologist at Intel, said the company was totally driven by what the market wanted.
"If customers say they only want Microsoft's operating systems, it's not our business to question that. Now, that is not what customers are saying; they want options and there are more and more of these. Choice is both good and bad," he said.
James Hughes, a vice president and fellow at Sun Microsystems, said operating systems do nothing without applications. The choice of operating systems is done by developers on the basis of how long it takes them to get their job done using that system.
"So, the future of the operating system is to enable application developers to get their work done. They also want true and real support for their operating system, where someone actually answers the phone rather than just sending out e-mails to the community."
Roger Levy, the general manager of Novell's open platform solutions business group, agreed that customers choose their operating system based on what they feel they would get with it.
Being able to customize the operating system and still preserve its key attributes while being supported is the model of the future. "The open-source community happens to do support very well," Levy said.
Jack Lo, the senior director of research and development at VMware, said the operating system was designed to manage the hardware correctly.
But ISVs wanted to be able to distribute a virtual appliance, which meant they were essentially distributing someone else's operating system, and the current business and licensing models did not support this, he said.
With regard to Microsoft, Windows and its future, Lo said VMware wants to be the best platform for running operating systems, and he believed customers would continue to run more Windows than other operating systems.
Novell's Levy said there will be Windows and Linux in most customer environments, and interoperability between them is necessary.
Sun is no longer a Windows-phobic company, Hughes said, adding that there is a lot of interoperability and support between the two companies.
But the exchange turned testy at times, particularly around Solaris and OpenSolaris. "You can't be better if you strive to be the same. If Solaris wants to be like Linux, why bother? I don't see this as an issue of Unix versus Linux versus whatever," Hughes said. "Solaris grew up over a long period of time and has touched many developers, I think we're doing a good job."
Then Intel's Hohndel pointedly asked how many people were contributing to OpenSolaris, given that 4,000 people were contributing to the next Linux kernel. But no one spoke up with an answer.
Asked about OpenSolaris running on Intel hardware, Hohndel again answered that it was not Intel's job to decide what operating system was best for its customers. "We are more than happy to see this operating system on our platform and to do our best to make sure it runs well," he said.