Enterprise Customers Question Suns Open-Solaris Efforts

The company is exploring the idea of eschewing the GPL for unique licenses and customers wonder Sun's commitment to open-source licensing.

While Sun Microsystems Inc. considers creating a new licensing model to open-source its Solaris operating system, some enterprise customers are questioning the companys motives and its true commitment to the effort.

At the JavaOne conference last month, Jonathan Schwartz, chief operating officer and president of the Santa Clara, Calif., company, reiterated Suns intentions to open Solaris. But he added that no decision has been made on what license to use.

Looking beyond the commonly deployed GPL (GNU General Public License), Sun is exploring the possibility of creating a unique open-source license for Solaris, similar to what IBM did with The Apache Software Foundation so IBM could use Apache for its Eclipse and WebSphere projects.

"We realize that there are some complaints in the community around the GPL and recognize that the BSD [Berkeley Software Division] license is also not necessarily perfect for all applications," Schwartz told eWEEK in an interview at JavaOne. "So we want to come up with a license that is approved by those that are in a position to determine the validity of an open-source license, as well as one that appeals to as broad a segment of the population as possible."

One open-source expert, however, said he sees no reason for Sun to create a new open-source license for Solaris. "Most of the new licenses weve seen in the last five years are acts of vanity that didnt actually solve any substantive or legal problems," said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative, in Malvern, Pa.

Although Sun has not approached the nonprofit corporation, Raymond said the OSI would "be happy to cooperate with them when and if they choose to do so. We have quite a lot of experience at fitting the various standard licenses to whatever open-source business model a corporation wants to choose."

/zimages/6/28571.gifWhat are some of the differences between open-source licenses and the GPL ? Click here to read more.

Other longtime Solaris users said that they welcome being able to look at the Solaris code but that they do not support any possible hand-over of control of Solaris to the open-source community. "Just look at Linux. Even the shipped kernel of the different distributions isnt the same," said Thomas Nau, head of the Communication and Information Centers Infrastructure Department at the University of Ulm, in Germany.

Other Sun customers, such as John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC, in Phoenix, questioned Suns commitment to open source because of its history with Java.

"I believe Sun has shown their true colors with Java," Kretz said. "Eighteen months ago if you had told me Novell [Inc.] would be a bigger proponent of open source than Sun, I would have laughed myself to death."

The license that governs the use of Java is the Sun Community Source License. Developers who agree to the SCSL can download the source code from Sun. They are allowed to review and modify the code, but they cant redistribute it.

Schwartz said vendors have to pay close attention to which audience they are addressing. As such, the debate inside Sun is about the community model as well as the government model that will be used to manage Solaris evolution.

"The license is really a derivative of that conversation, because if you pick the GPL, you end up with one set of issues and artifacts that arise, while if you pick the BSD, you come up with another issue," Schwartz said. "Even if you take the GPL one step further and build a Super GPL, you maybe then disclose some of the practices that some of the Linux vendors are using to try to straddle the fence on whether they are open source or not."

The University of Ulms Nau said he agrees, adding that current open-source licenses "seem to have drawbacks—some for reasons of intellectual property or religious reasons. I have a feeling that these community and research license models cannot reflect the needs of most companies, and the GPL, in particular, can become a legal problem," Nau said.

OSIs Raymond said no Linux vendor is straddling the line on whether they are open source. "This remark is ... obviously directed at Red Hat and is part of Suns recent campaign to portray that company as closed source. It will make Sun no friends among developers, all of whom know that Red Hats commitment to open source has been steady for far longer."

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