June 16, 2004

Sun reveals tidbits of Solaris open source strategy

Author: Chris Preimesberger

SAN FRANCISCO -- Sun Microsystems confirmed Tuesday that it intends to open the source code for its Solaris operating system, but it gave no timetable for such a release. Ann Wettersten, Sun vice president of systems software marketing, said the company wants "to do it right, and not just throw it out there" without some sort of well-thought-out strategy ahead of it.

New Sun President Jonathan Schwartz announced two weeks ago during a users' conference in Shanghai that his company would open the code for its Unix System V-based enterprise operating system, "make no mistake about it." Although many high-level executives and Solaris group members at Sun knew about the plan far in advance, a number of Sun employees outside the operating systems group were caught off-guard at the announcement.

Sun has always delivered free versions of Solaris -- version X of which is set to be released next fall -- to various non-commercial developers and customers, but has never opened the code before. The company charges $99 per year for a single-processor license. Moving Solaris to the GPL would deflect criticism "that if you can't build your own kernel, then you're not open," Schwartz said. He called that notion "a fantasy."

Wettersten added that the campaign within Sun for an open Solaris is supported strongly by Sun customers, who are "very positive about opening it up."

Bryan Cantrill, senior kernel engineer for Solaris, said that he's excited about his and his team's work going public.

"Technically, this is not a problem to do this," he said. "I can assure you, the engineers in this room write some of the cleanest code in the entire world. We're proud to open it. We feel we were born to do this work. But I'm also sure we'll be revisiting a few comments in the code here and there -- I just thought of a particularly disparaging one I might have left in having to do with C++ unions," Cantrill said with a laugh.

Wettersten brushed off several more questions from writers and analysts during a preview briefing on Solaris X, the release of which is scheduled to coincide with the shipment of Sun's next-generation Java Enterprise System in September.

"First, we wanted to indicate the company commitment behind this move (which Schwartz espoused two weeks ago)," Wettersten said. "Next, we need to work out the licensing and government aspects of opening the code. After that, we need to plan and prepare all the support needs from all parts of the company. So there's a lot more we have to do in order to do this right, and we will do it right."

Wettersten would give no hint of what a timetable for the release may look like. "That's all you're going to get out of me at this time," she said.

Unix System V developers, especially those working with Solaris, have experienced a number of issues that could be more readily solved if the source code were available. Two of those issues are system lockups caused by users being in more than 15 groups, and a limitation on a number of objects that can be held in a netgroup.


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