Suns OpenSolaris Plans Start to Emerge

The company will launch an OpenSolaris site on Friday, but an open-source version of Sun's operating system is still a long way off.

Sun Microsystems on Friday will unveil more of its plans for OpenSolaris, the open-source project for the Solaris operating system. But at this point, its more of a plan to make a plan.

Sun Microsystems Inc. has discussed its intentions to open-source Solaris 10, the next generation of its Unix-based operating system, since earlier this summer. This week, Sun set its plan into motion.

On Wednesday, Sun held a company open-source "summit" with several open-source leaders to float its latest proposals.

"The whole day was mostly devoted to discussions and presentations, including many brief lightning talks by insiders and outsiders [such as] Brian Behlendorf of the Apache Software Foundation, and others from MySQL, Darwin and other OS [operating system] teams," said Doc Searls, senior editor of Linux Journal, a monthly Linux magazine.

"Discussions were mostly about the zillions of options and other variables involved in opening the source code to a large project thats been closed, private and commercial from the beginning."

Searls said he came out of meeting believing that Sun is "clearly committed to opening Solaris. I [also] didnt hear any arguments for keeping Solaris in, say, the state theyve kept Java."

Searls said he found this encouraging. "Nearly all the discussions were about how. None [of it was] about if, say, or why," he said.

But Apache co-founder Brian Behlendorf wasnt so impressed. Behlendorf said he had met with members of Suns open-source team in July at the OReilly OSCON conference in Portland, Ore., and that "little had been settled then, let alone the license it would be released under."

He said not much has changed since. "Yesterday, the open-sourcing of Solaris was discussed, but again, it doesnt sound like a decision has yet been made on how to license."

Russ Castronovo, a Sun spokesman, confirmed that Sun still has not decided on a specific open-source license.

Behlendorf also said Sun "did mention that on Friday thered be some sort of partial code drop to a limited crowd as some sort of test, but that the license on that code drop wouldnt [yet] be [an] OS."

Sun is requiring members of that limited test group, the OpenSolaris Pilot Program, to sign an NDA (nondisclosure agreement). A copy of the NDA obtained by indicates that instead of an operating system, those who sign the NDA will gain access to drivers and other programs, under one or more undescribed open-source licenses.

The project will be centered on a restricted-access Web site, OpenSolaris, and a mailing list. At this time, the site is closed to all access.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about a sweeping set of security enhancements to Solaris.

Suns Castronovo said the project is currently more of a "beta program for the community were developing."

"This is not the final shape of what the OpenSolaris project will be," he said, adding that before the company launches the project, "we have to work out the kinks."

Thats because Sun has outsourced the management of most of its previous open-source communities to "If were going to do this [manage the OpenSolaris community] ourselves, we need to have some direct experience," Castronovo said.

Getting that experience will take some time. Several sources close to the project indicate that Sun is at least a year away from letting open-source developers work on a Solaris 10 kernel.

Sources close to Sun continue to insist that Sun has the intellectual property rights to create an open-source Solaris. The SCO Group Inc. continues to disagree.

"Until we see what kind of licenses Sun is talking about and see what their plans really are, its hard to say anything," SCO spokesman Blake Stowell said. "SCO is showing that it will fight for its Unix intellectual property rights with IBM, and Im sure Sun sees that."

Unlike IBM, Sun has signed several Unix IP agreements with SCO, and the Solaris operating system is largely based on Unix System V, to which SCO holds the rights. But Sun has some of the broadest rights to Unix IP, according to both SCO and Sun.

Linux founder Linus Torvalds is also withholding judgment on OpenSolaris. "My guess would be that they use some kind of MS-like shared-source license, and even then they dont release enough to actually build a working system," Torvalds said. "But hey, maybe for once I wont be disappointed by Sun. Hope lives eternal."

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