Analysis: How Sun plans to build Solaris open source community


Author: Chris Preimesberger

SAN JOSE, Calif. — OK, so Sun Microsystems, which claims to be the second-highest contributor overall in the open source software community (BSD is No. 1), is seriously getting back into the open source mix, thanks to the newly opened Solaris 10. In the past, anybody who had to sign a licensing agreement with Sun involving either Solaris or Java software would certainly not agree with the assessment that Sun was open source anything. Times have changed, and so has Sun. Apparently.

At the Solaris 10 launch event here at the Technology Museum of Innovation in San Jose today, Sun Chairman Scott McNealy was asked how Sun was planning to gain the trust of the open source community, so it could realize its strategic mission of building a thriving new community around its front-line enterprise operating system. McNealy looked a roomful of reporters in the eyes, put aside the spin for a minute, and said: “We will have to earn it (trust). We have to step it up. We will have to show them by our products and actions that we are serious about doing this right.”

McNealy then alluded to the recent Kodak patent infringement lawsuit, in which the company had to pony up $92 million to settle out of court. The infringement centered around an activation feature which allows the system to “wake up” or “bring from disk into memory” a Java technology object or EJB on a remote machine, as needed. Turns out Kodak, not Sun, developed that feature during a co-op project in the 1990s. Somehow, it got incorporated into Java, and Sun was forced to surrender.

“We had our ‘Kodak moment’ a month ago,” McNealy said. “OK, so we took a bullet for the JCP (Java Community Process), and we don’t think that will be the last time someone will take a shot at us. But this is what we’re prepared to do; how many Linux companies have the wherewithall to absorb something like that? Not many. We can do it; we’ve got money in the bank and lots of smart people who work for us.”

Sun does have money in the bank. As of this month, the Santa Clara-based corporation had $7.4 billion in cash, give or take a few hundred thousand.

Sun now sees itself as the “guardian” of both Java and Solaris. Java has long had its own community; Sun is now planning to build a new one immediately around Solaris, the BSD/Unix System V-based system that has been the company’s bread-and-butter OS for more than two decades.

How will the company convince open source and enterprise developers to join up to yet another specialized community?

“We’re not going to tell Solaris developers exactly how to create and run it (the community),” Sun President Jon Schwartz said. “We may design 20 percent of how it’s going to work. We’d like the community to drive itself. We’ll give it all the corporate support we can, as Scott said, but eventually, Sun’s going to lose control of Solaris, and it will belong to the community. So the community itself should set the guidelines and run itself.”

The new Solaris will actually become available for production release in January. Schwartz said the company hasn’t yet decided which license it’s going to use. In fact, there may be a completely new license drawn up for Solaris.

“We should know a bit more toward the end of the year,” Schwartz said. “We still debating how we’re going to license it. But that’s a government matter for the lawyers.”


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