Reinventing OpenSolaris

Now is the time to get Sun and Solaris back into the IT conversation.

It's been nearly three years since Sun Microsystems kicked off its OpenSolaris project by releasing most of the code that comprises its Solaris operating system under an open-source license. And yet, it's only just now, with the release of the first official distribution of OpenSolaris, that the project begins in earnest.

I, like most people interested in OpenSolaris at its inception, expected to find at the project Web site a button labeled, "download OpenSolaris here." Instead, potential OpenSolaris adherents were met with a source-code browser and a labyrinthine set of instructions for downloading and compiling the load of source code that Sun had released.

The problem was that while the label "open-source" refers directly to code, the sort of open-source community that Sun hoped would spring up around OpenSolaris cannot live on code alone.

I remember talking to an OpenSolaris team member at OSCON in 2005 and getting the impression that Sun expected to fork sterling Solaris code over the firewall and watch while a vibrant Linux-style community collected around it. Sun didn't want to interfere with the growth of an OpenSolaris ecosystem by blessing any particular distribution.

While it's true that a couple of all-free, OpenSolaris-based distributions did pop up, these options were more proofs-of-concept than budding branches of a true OpenSolaris community. For one thing, these OpenSolaris distributions lacked the sort of direct corporate backing that community-focused Linuxes such as Red Hat's Fedora and Novell's OpenSUSE enjoy.

I have argued that Sun should simply adopt the most promising of the OpenSolaris-based distributions, the Ubuntu/Solaris hybrid Nexenta, and move on from that fairly well-formed base to marry Solaris' unique features (ZFS file system, container-based virtualization and Trusted Extensions, among others) to deliver an offering with the appearance of Ubuntu and a slate of functionality unmatched by Linux or Microsoft Windows.

The trouble with a Debian-centric approach is that it may have broken too many ties with existing Sun stakeholders and thrown the future road map of Solaris into doubt. No matter where OpenSolaris goes, Sun will be shipping a Solaris 11, and that release must flow naturally from Solaris versions that preceded it.

Considering these factors, Sun's OpenSolaris reinvention team (led by none other than Debian founder Ian Murdock) was right to crank through months of proceedings over how best to bridge Solaris with OpenSolaris, even if it meant ending up with a product that's less about showcasing the considerable benefits of Solaris than providing a foundation upon which to begin that work.

Now that the foundation (complete with "download now" button) is in place, the real work of putting Sun and Solaris back into the center of the IT conversation can commence.

eWEEK Labs Executive Editor Jason Brooks can be reached at