Whats a Linux Guy Doing at Sun?

Ian Murdock, founder of Debian and deep Linux geek, discusses what he is doing at Sun Microsystems Inc.

SAN FRANCISCO—Whats a Linux guy doing at Sun?

Thats the question Ian Murdock, chief open source platform strategist at Sun Microsystems Inc., posed in a session he chaired at Suns CommunityOne Day on May 7 prior to the opening of the JavaOne conference.

"Why am I here? Whats a Linux guy doing at Sun? Have you changed sides?" Murdock said people constantly ask him. "No, thats not how I look at it."

Murdock, a Linux user since 1993 and chair of the LSB (Linux Standards Base), said, "When people say they want Linux, they dont actually mean they want Linux. What they want is the Linux userland user environment and the Linux business model. They want choice. They want the Linux distribution and Im the Linux distribution guy."

Murdock is the founder of Debian Linux distribution and was chief technology officer of the Linux Foundation.

Noting that Marc Andreessen, formerly of Netscape fame, said Solaris is a better Linux than Linux, Murdock broke down the differences for a comparison.

Going from the base metal layer up, Murdock said Linux has hardware at the base level, the Linux kernel a layer up from there, then system libraries, then GNU utilities (like Posix libraries), the X Window System (or KDE), Gnome and Mozilla Firefox.

"Solaris is similar except for a different kernel," he said.

So to make Solaris a better Linux than Linux, the first thing to overcome is the familiarity problem. Which means how does one get Solaris on a computer, and how does one improve support for modern developer workstations, such as laptops, he asked.

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"A basic solution is to replace one layer in the Solaris stack—take out the Unix utilities and put in the GNU utilities," Murdock said.

"The point is we dont do a forklift upgrade because there are some things about Unix we want to keep—like backward compatibility, which is one thing Linux does awfully."

Later Murdock mentioned OpenSolaris and said many people ask if OpenSolaris is the community version of Solaris. "OpenSolaris is not really an operating system…and by this point Linux users are probably confused. So we need to change the way we look at Solaris. That way were not competing with ourselves like Red Hat is with Fedora."

Moreover, said Murdock, "Taken to the logical conclusion, Solaris starts to look a whole lot like another Linux distribution. If it does, weve failed."

Murdock then told a story of how Twitter, which is written on Ruby on Rails, ran into overwhelming bottlenecks and performance issues. But the problem was manageable because it ran on Solaris and they were able to use the DTrace profiling tool to pinpoint the problems. However, the whole thing here "is standing on the shoulders of giants," Murdock said. "You dont have to re-invent the wheel."

Meanwhile, Murdock said he knows that building a community is critical to achieving a real goal, "which is critical mass. In the case of OpenSolaris, I think Sun has done a very good job of seeding the community. But the community is largely Sun individuals at this point."

Finally, describing his "day job" at Sun, Murdock said it is "figuring out what does a Linux guy have to offer at Sun. Were at point A, we want to get to point B, and we are putting together a plan."

Later, hinting at when something more concrete might be announced, Murdock said, "Theres a big anniversary coming up and you can expect something to happen at that time." June 14 represents the second anniversary of the OpenSolaris project.

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