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Is Solaris truly open source?

Lately, every time we interview Bill Vass, president of Sun Federal, he bemoans how Sun software isn't considered open source. He's right. Sure, everyone knows Java and Solaris are open source, but you rarely hear those names brandied about during discussions of open source. You hear "Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl" but then no one ever adds "Solaris" onto that list.

It depends on what your definition of open source is, I guess. In a strict sense, Vass is correct. Most all of the Solaris and Java code is indeed available for download. And we have no doubt Sun is serious about open source. The company is certainly not just open-sourcing dead software in order to cash in on the buzz.

But if you dig into the idea of open source, there still is an ideological connotation to its definition, for better or worse. It's the idea of community development. Source that is freely available is valuable because it allows others to modify and improve that software. No one gets paid for their effort, but everyone enjoys the fruits of their collective labors. It's not that Linus Torvalds is promoting socialism with his Linux kernel, but he is not thinking about returns on investment either. He just wants a good operating system, just as the Apache developers just want rock-solid Web server software.

While as far as corporate involvement goes, Sun has always been a big supporter in open source. Only recently has it pushed its involvement as a marketing angle, with sometimes absurd consequences. From what we can tell, the company wants to exist by both fueling and then riding off community-based development. Which is not the exact same thing as community development itself, at least for fervent believers of the idea. Whether volunteer developers will rally around software still prmarily associated with a single company remains to be seen, though MySQL shows it could work, if handled delicately enough.

* * *

The key to success, of course, is to build that community. OpenSolaris may have been downloaded over 7 million times, but downloads do not a community make. You need newsgroups, mailing lists and user groups.

To nurture this environment, Sun has set the stage for local OpenSolaris users groups.

Here in Washington D.C. this past Wednesday, Sun engineer Harry Foxwell held the inaugural meeting of the Capital Area OpenSolaris Users Group. This is actually the second inaugural meeting, as few attended a previous meeting last February, probably because the word didn't get around enough. This one was held in the same location of the concurrent Sun Tech days, so more nearby folks could get the word about the group.

The event certainly seemed to be a success. About 25 people showed up'an attendance on par with most group events around these parts. And they seemed to be the right folks who showed up. Many ran large systems and they knew how to ask tough questions.

Foxwell quizzed the attendees about when to hold the meetings. About once a month, during a weekday night, at someplace Metro-accessible seemed to be the answer. He also promised look into bring in speakers to discuss technical topics of interest, such as DTrace. He then gave a good crunchy presentation on the new Solaris feature, Logical Domains, and how it is a different sort of virtualization than Containers.

So if Foxwell's efforts prove to be tireless, then the CAOSUG could be a valuable resource for area Unix, Linus and Solaris users alike. To get on the mailing list to hear of new events, go here.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Jun 08, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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