Sun Microsystems Inc. this week formally committed itself to releasing Solaris operating system code as open source, but no final decisions have been made on the specific details.
Sources close to the company, however, said Sun executives are struggling with details of the move, such as what license to use, whether to open all the code at once or incrementally, and whether Sun should host the code itself or contract a third party.
“There is a huge debate within Sun about all of this, and so the time frame for open-sourcing the product is a moving target,” said a source who requested anonymity. “Sun is aware of the concerns of some of its customers about the move and is actively working to reassure them.”
These are the same questions Sun executives were struggling with in April when eWEEK first reported that the Santa Clara, Calif., company was investigating open-source Solaris.
At that time, John Fowler, Suns then chief technology officer for software, admitted that Sun was considering open-sourcing all 20 million lines of Solaris code, and was looking at “what it takes to successfully get to volume and what the tactics might be to go and do that. Open source is clearly one, but the question is, who would be the community, and what would that community then build around it,” he said.
Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Schwartz used the SunNetwork Conference in Shanghei, China, this week to confirm the companys intention to open the Solaris source code.
A Sun spokesman declined to specify details, but issued a statement saying that the company is “in the process of soliciting customer feedback in refining various aspects of the project and is not discussing additional information such as launch timing, licensing models or other details.”
Some Sun customers, like 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,” said Kretz. “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. Truth is stranger than fiction I guess.”
Kretz said he does not support the open sourcing of Solaris, particularly from a security standpoint. “If Sun wants to open-source Solaris, then it should do it with a future release, one that has been combed over several times to find the most dangerous security issues,” he said.
Thomas Nau, head of the Communication and Information Centers Infrastructure Department at the University of Ulm, Germany, also has concerns. “I think being very cautious about this is vital to them. If open-sourcing Solaris puts the code into danger of not being binary compatible anymore, then the risk is too high,” he said. “I saw commodity Linux, not the enterprise editions, breaking applications far too often. … I also think it becomes close to impossible to support an open version. Beside, what would be the gain? There are options today, but how many run Solaris on the desktop or Linux/FreeBSD? Also, having several distributions, all slightly different, doesnt help running a business on top of them.”
Other users, such as Chuck Kramer, chief technology officer for Social & Scientific Systems Inc., in Silver Spring, Md., disagree. He said opening Solaris is a good thing as long as Sun continues its development to ensure legacy compatibility.
“Open-sourcing it will lead to lower acquisition costs, potentially broader platform and device support, and even better compatibility with other operating systems as those users/vendors seek a cooperative operating environment,” said Kramer. “Ive always felt Solaris had much more capability than was evident, but backward compatibility was holding it back. Going open source will expose those areas where Sun might have been able to make leaps in terms of security, manageability, performance and compatibility with other operating systems, but didnt for the sake of legacy support.”