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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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Reader Comments

Tue, Jun 12, 2007 Jim Grisanzio

Hi ...I'm glad the user group was a success! I'd love to visit some day.I think you may be confusing a couple of things in your post, but to be honest, we have to be a lot less confusing ourselves. We grew so rapidly these past two years that we are a bit disorganized right now. We're working on that. And although we have aggressive plans to grow and diversify even more, we also also need to make the site and the offerings easier to understand to more levels in the community.Just to clarify a few points:Sun's product -- Solaris -- has been downloaded 7 million times (or whatever the number is now). But OpenSolaris is not a product. It's source code. There are six distributions based on the OpenSolaris source code, sure, but the OpenSolaris community is primarily a source community at present (and the source runs around 10 million lines and 35,000 files of code). Distros listed here: http://www.opensolaris.org/os/downloads/And we have 204 mailing lists (with about 27,000 threads and 120,000 messages at present), 100 development projects, 52 user groups, 43 communities, 58,000 members, a community ratified constitution, an elected governing board, we've been to about 40 conferences in the last couple of years, we are part of the computer science curriculum at about 90 universities around the world, and parts of OpenSolaris have already been ported to BSD and Mac OS. It's a humble start, but we are still very much in the community-building process.We've released code 35 times over the past two years, and the more we release the bigger the community grows. We've had to release code in stages because we are opening the Solaris code and engineering organization at the same time we are still building and shipping the Solaris product to a large customer base. We have to tease apart the "development" process -- which will be open -- and the "productization" process will will remain closed. Right now they are pretty much the same. So, for instance, we are in the process of updating our SCM system internally to Mercurial, an already open source SCM system that we specified and tested in the open on opensolaris.org with the participation of multiple communities. Once the internal transition is made, we'll then migrate the main kernel gate across the firewall, so all the development operations will be open. There are already several gates that are open and using the system on opensolaris.org, but the main gate will be opened this year. So, it's not just a situation of opening code and building community outside, we are also opening the entire development process and the thousand engineers that build Solaris currently. However, even though we haven't been able to open the main gate, we've still been taking code from about 80 non-Sun developers. You can see their contributions already integrated (or to be integrated) here: http://www.opensolaris.org/os/bug_reports/request_sponsor/ Some of these contributions have been substantial and have required ARC review: http://opensolaris.org/os/bug_reports/arc_table/ For more info, see the roadmap here: http://opensolaris.org/os/about/roadmap/I hope that helps. In general, though, I agree with your point that community building will be the only thing that changes perception.Jim Grisanzio, Community Manager, OpenSolarishttp://blogs.sun.com/jimgris

Mon, Jun 11, 2007 Peter Gallagher ARLINGTON VA

Sun is making it happen and to their credit. As OSS matures and becomes the norm you may not always have the huge user communities that we take as ideal. An operating system or other key infrastructure is more likely to attract larger groups but there is an unlimited set of highly specialized tools that might not. So a company that does not anticipate a large user community may still want to license as open source for competitive reasons providing many advantages versus proprietary. The "key to success" as OSS becomes the norm is based on more than the size of the community although bigger is today accepted as usually being better. So whether Sun ever gets a Linux sized community or not Solaris will still be more likely to grow by having been made open.

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