Sun Microsystems Inc.s announcement on Wednesday that it will open-source the Solaris operating system is the latest push in an effort that began over four years ago.
Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz confirmed that the company would open the Solaris source code at the SunNetwork Conference in Shanghei, China. "I dont want to say when that will happen, but make no mistake—we will open-source Solaris," he told reporters there.
Sources familiar with the project say that Schwartzs latest comment was intended as much for Suns internal audience as for its customers—a message that it was no longer a matter of if the project would be brought to fruition, but when.
Even getting this far was a laborious process within Sun. The main obstacle to open-sourcing Solaris has been the internal political battle within the company over the fate of the operating system. It is this resistance to change that Schwartz sought to end with his public pronouncement of Suns plans.
While Sun officials said that a great number of details still need to be worked out before the company launches an open-source Solaris, sources familiar with the project say that much of the groundwork has already been laid for the creation of an open-source Solaris project. The major decision left to Sun is what type of license the company should use.
Schwartz and others at Sun have expressed reservations over the GNU Public License, which governs the use of Linux. But whichever licensing model they select, it will most likely follow the Open Source Initiatives Open Source Definition.
Sun has not yet presented a detailed plan for taking Solaris open source, but the project is far enough along that it now has staff associated with it, including a "community manager" for the project when it is launched. The company is also taking into account lessons learned from its OpenOffice.org and JXTA open-source project launches as it develops a launch plan.
The biggest technical and legal hurdles are already behind the company. Foremost among these was ensuring that the intellectual property rights to all of the components of Solaris were unencumbered from external claims. Most of the remaining potential legal concerns were cleared up when Sun licensed drivers from the SCO Group in July 2003. Paving the way to open-source Solaris was "the only reason for the SCO deal," according to one source familiar with the project.
But Solaris, perhaps even more than Java, has been something of a sacred cow within Sun. And people within the Solaris team at the company have all but openly resisted previous efforts to move the project forward. Schwartz has been engineering sweeping organizational changes within Sun—and on the heels of a 3000-employee layoff—but that hasnt made the necessary cultural changes within Sun any easier. His public pronouncements about the project are a signal to the hard-core protectors of Solaris that resistance is futile.
The question, of course, is whether these efforts will matter much by the time Sun does release an open-source Solaris. The Linux operating system has already seized a large portion of Solaris market. And while Sun has been testing the waters for taking its own Unix open source, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have moved much of their marketing focus away from their own Unix variants toward Linux.