Sun Weighs Open-Source Options

Open-source community may be invited to 'lead the next level of development' of Looking Glass, the company's next-generation 3-D windowing system.

MENLO PARK, Calif.—Sun Microsystems Inc. is pondering the possibility of open-sourcing more of its software—this time with its next-generation 3-D windowing system, called Project Looking Glass, which is under development.

When completed, Looking Glass will allow a new user experience through three-dimensional windowing capabilities on the desktop, making communications and collaboration easier. The software will work with Linux, Solaris and Java applications, running in the X Window System, said Hideya Kawahara, Sun senior staff engineer, at the companys executive briefing center here this week.

The Looking Glass development team is working on a software development kit for the project that it hopes will draw in developers. "The SDK should be available by the middle of the year. We are also discussing how to evolve Looking Glass going forward," Kawahara said.

One option, he said, is to "let the Linux and open-source communities lead the next level of development."

Sun of Santa Clara, Calif., is in talks with groups in the open-source community about Looking Glass, although no formal or final decisions have been made, Kawahara said. Sun is also hoping to integrate some components of Looking Glass into the GNOME desktop, he said.

/zimages/1/28571.gifNovell Inc. has announced plans to make one common Novell Linux desktop from Gnomes and KDEs best features. Click here to read more.

John Fowler, Suns chief technology officer for software, said the company is willing to share the Looking Glass intellectual property with the open-source community, although questions remain within Sun about which part of the community to involve and how to control the product afterward.

That concern about controlling the direction of open-source contributions is at the heart of the communitys frustration with Sun and its strategy on the open-sourcing of Java and Solaris.

Earlier this year, open-source advocate Eric Raymond called for Sun to open-source Java and to relax its control over it so developers could take advantage. Raymond called Suns support for open source "curiously inconsistent" and "spotty."

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read about other open-source advocates views on open-sourcing Java.

Some users, such as John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group LLC of Phoenix, also expressed skepticism. "I question Suns commitment to open source for the express reason of Java," he said. "They seem very two-minded lately about open source."

Asked whether Sun was considering open-sourcing the entire 20 million lines of Solaris code, Fowler said there are a lot of Solaris components already available as open source.

"We do look at all of our technologies and what it takes to successfully get to volume and what the tactics might be to go and do that," Fowler said. "Open source is clearly one, but the question is, who would be the community, and what would that community then build around it?"

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