Solaris Beta Model Modified

Sun to deliver code earlier in the development process.

Sun Microsystems Inc. is preparing for the next major upgrade of Solaris by changing the way it delivers beta code to Solaris users and providing code much earlier in the development process.

The company last week began delivering on this new model, called Software Express for Solaris, for the follow-on version of the operating system, known as Solaris Next. The final product is expected to be available by the second half of next year.

As part of the process, the Santa Clara, Calif., company will also offer customers monthly snapshots of future software features currently under development.

"We decided to get rid of the entire previous beta process and are now giving customers access to the code as early as possible," said John Loiacono, vice president of Suns operating systems group, in an interview. "This will accelerate the adoption of the technology by users so that when the final product is released, people are ready to implement it almost immediately."

Software Express for Solaris is a Web-based program that delivers new technology every few months with online support and a community forum.

The program will include features that will be in future versions of Solaris, such as NFS Version 4, the standards-based Network File System optimized for Internet use; Dtrace, a set of capabilities for rapidly diagnosing problems and bottlenecks in applications; and Solaris Zones, a server virtualization technology that provides security isolation and fault containment.

"The current version includes the tracing technology, while well drop some of the new networking stack in there in about a month, followed by other new technologies every month or so after," Loiacono said.

While some customers welcome the change, others are more skeptical. Thomas Nau, head of the Communication and Information Centers Infrastructure Department at the University of Ulm, in Germany, said the Software Express delivery mechanism gives him a chance to adopt features earlier.

"In the past, having the latest feature set has always been worth taking the marginal risk of upgrading. Without the early access, we would have to start testing about a year later and would thus only start upgrading about six months after the final release," Nau said.

Nau said his only concern about the plan is the speed with which ISVs could incorporate new features into their products and take advantage of them. "My biggest wish would be to see third-party software take advantage of what the operating system provides," he said.

An enterprise Solaris user in California, who requested anonymity, said greater stability, flexibility and security across the platform are far more important than a host of new features. "We have enough trouble dealing with and installing patches to the operating system as it is. We are not interested in implementing anything that makes life more complicated for us," he said.

Sun is offering Software Express for Solaris in two ways. First is via free download, for which customers sign an NDA (nondisclosure agreement) for use of the code. There is no support for this option, and the code can be used only for noncommercial purposes.

The second way is by subscription at a cost of $99 per year. This also requires an NDA, but the code can be used commercially and includes access to the Solaris Express Community Web Site.

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