We could hear the whistling in advance, and, indeed, the decision by Sun to license the source code for its flagship Solaris operating system was a bombshell. Now, after the impact, the speculation really begins as the Sun and open-source communities await clarification of just what Sun intends to do.
There are many unanswered questions: Under which license will Sun release the Solaris code? Will Sun officials dither in making this decision, losing a critical window of opportunity in the process? Is this a desperate move on Suns part?
Then theres the sincerity question. Will we see a “Solaris Community Process” that echoes the Java Community Process? After calls from industry players, ranging from open-source evangelist Eric Raymond to IBM to open-source Java, a Sun official reportedly promised just that but did not say how or when. And its been a couple of years since Scott McNealy paraded on stage in a penguin suit, but most people still dont think of Sun as a Linux proponent. Will an open-source Solaris suffer from the same ambivalence?
For the sake of offering a few suggestions, well assume that Sun is sincere and that it will move quickly to license Solaris source code. That being the case, the broader the license, the better. The shared-source approach of Microsoft is far less than we believe Sun intends or its users deserve. Theres no reason to think the classic GPL (General Public License) would not be the way to go.
Sun will have to learn quickly the art of using the brains of the open-source community and incorporating submitted enhancements. If Sun is serious, it will soon embark on adopting the development and release principles of the primary open-source players.
Sun must also take pains to ensure the Solaris code it releases has been subject to a rigorous security review. Its not clear, however, that this kind of review can be done quickly enough to ensure the timely release of the code.
Sun will also have to adapt to the possible existence of multiple Solaris distributions of varying compatibility. Suns own Solaris release would need to be backed by the company in much the same way that Red Hat and Novells SuSE Linux division, for example, support their Linux distributions.
The issue of SCOs intellectual property claims should be taken care of, presumably, by the agreement signed by Sun and SCO last summer.
Even if the move is a desperate one, there is precedent, in Netscapes Mozilla open-source spinoff, that good things can happen—for the software, if not for the company.
Ultimately, a decisive, swift and clear path is best. Spending months fine-tuning the companys declared direction will undermine confidence in Suns leadership and intentions. The strong gains in user confidence that would result from a forthright move toward open source could go a long way toward bringing Sun back.
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