Analysts: OpenSolaris Needs Time to Shine

News Analysis: Competitors and analysts are waiting to see whether possible Linux challenger OpenSolaris will build enough of a community to change Sun's business future.

Analysts and competitors alike are taking a "show me" approach to Suns release of some OpenSolaris source code.

On Tuesday, Sun Microsystems Inc. released a large part of the source code for its newly open-sourced Unix operating system, OpenSolaris, to the public on the projects Web site. While developers look over the code, analysts are considering what OpenSolaris may mean to Suns business.

"In the near term, it doesnt really fundamentally change Suns Solaris business," said Gordon Haff, senior analyst for research house Illuminata Inc.

"The Solaris community remains the Solaris community. Suns enterprise customers continue to buy supported Solaris. Sun continues to do most Solaris development internally," Haff said.

That internal development, if it dominates external open-source development, may prove to be a problem, however.

The success of OpenSolaris and Sun "depends upon Sun building an open multivendor, multi-end-user organization community around its products," said Dan Kusnetzky, IDCs vice president of system software

/zimages/3/28571.gifRead more here about Suns plans to release OpenSolaris source code.

And some analysts fear that Suns internal development staff may stand in the way of building such a community.

"If Sun can encourage developers who are non-Sun employees to participate in the OpenSolaris community, it can reduce the cost of developing Solaris," said Stacey Quandt, principal analyst at Quandt Analytics.

"However, the true litmus test of whether Sun can create a thriving OpenSolaris development process will be … [how easy it is] for non-Sun Solaris developers to do a Solaris build, and the ability to contribute patches and bug fixes to the OpenSolaris source tree. Will Suns Solaris engineers rewrite a patch from a developer that is not a Sun employee?" Quandt added.

If Sun can overcome this governance problem, then todays code release will be the "first step in a long journey toward the potential for a flourishing OpenSolaris community," Quandt said.

Illuminatas Haff also said he believes that OpenSolaris can help Sun in the short run because it will "incrementally help in deals where open source is a requirement."

Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., both a competitor and a partner to Sun, doesnt see simply adopting open source as a brand as a successful strategy for Sun.

"An open-source program should not be implemented as a marketing hook to drive incremental sales," said Leigh Day, Red Hats spokesperson.

"Open source is a strategy for development and building communities of use. Truly implementing an open-source strategy requires a long-term commitment; it is not a term to be used opportunistically," Day said.

For Sun to be successful with OpenSolaris, IDCs Kusnetzky said, it will take more than an open-source community. "Sun must be willing to lead with its x86-based systems more, for this strategy to be seen as real," he said.

George Weiss, a Gartner Inc. vice president, said that the community is still at the stage where "well just have to watch and see how it jells."

For Weiss, the key isnt so much the open-source community as whether Sun can "create a glue that will bind its OEMs, ISVs and partners into an ecosystem that can create products using CDDL [Suns OpenSolaris license, the Common Development and Distribution License]."

"If OpenSolaris development turns into just an extension of Suns internal development system, it will be static," Weiss said.

For Sun to be successful, "it must rejuvenate by getting partners—this will be an uphill battle—for Sun to have some impact on Linuxs momentum," Weiss said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read about a Solaris migration plan from IBM and Red Hat.

Haff doesnt see Sun "making a frontal assault on Linux, but [Sun] clearly hopes that OpenSolaris will give it entrée into new markets and against Linux over time."

Weiss, however, said he thinks OpenSolaris is aimed at Linux.

"Suns been the most attacked, the Unix vendor that has suffered the most from Linux. If they didnt do this, theyd been out of the business in a few years," Weiss said.

OpenSolaris, as Weiss sees it, is also a sign of Sun continuing, under the guidance of president Jonathan Schwartz, its move from being a hardware vendor to being a service company. "Grid, OpenSolaris, are all elements of a grander vision."

"Pragmatically, its a transition, an evolution that will take years, perhaps even a decade. Theyll be selling big iron for years to come," he said.

Weiss said he isnt sure that Sun is making the right move with this transition, but "I may not agree with their moves, or even whether OpenSolaris will be meaningful, but at least theyre going out on a limb and trying to make a positive change. … I have to give credit to Sun. Sun is the only Unix vendor thats taking a certain amount of risk to change their systems model."

Still, if Sun isnt successful with the service path its chosen, Weiss said he fears that this might be "the last stand for Sun."

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