As the release date for Solaris 10 nears, Sun Microsystems has been
powering up the hype machine accordingly, and trying to convince
the world that Solaris 10 is the best OS ever.
According to Sun, Solaris 10 will offer more than 600 new, "breakthrough"
features. That's a few too many for this article, but we'll take a look at
some of the most notable features that are slated for inclusion in Solaris
One interesting feature is Solaris Dynamic Tracing (DTrace). DTrace is a
system for troubleshooting problems in real time, by allowing admins and
developers to observe and tune system behavior.
Another feature that Sun is touting is Solaris
Containers. Containers are essentially virtual machines, which allow an
admin to create "private execution environments" on a machine,
to isolate applications from one another and essentially create multiple
hosts on a single server. This is, of course, nothing new to Linux users
who have already discovered User-Mode Linux or any
of the other virtualization solutions available for Linux.
Solaris 10 also comes with a new file system, ZFS. This is
a 128-bit file system that offers far greater capacity than the current
UFS, and 64-bit checksums for data stored on the filesystem. ZFS works with
"virtual storage pools," and is supposed to greatly reduce the difficulty
of administering file systems. According to Sun's website:
For example, with Solaris ZFS, to add mirrored file systems for three users
and then add more disks, the number of tasks is reduced from 28 to 5. And
the time taken to perform this function has been reduced from 40 minutes to
10 seconds, so administrators can spend more time solving business
problems, rather than managing storage.
The TCP/IP stack gets special attention in Solaris 10. Sun has rewritten
its networking stack, and claims that delivers a 50-percent or better speed
boost for "many networked applications." Solaris 10 also
includes built-in kernel support for the Stream Control Transmission
Protocol (SCTP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) in an effort to make
Solaris 10 attractive for VoIP deployments.
Despite the slew of new features, Sun has fallen into an unenviable
position with Solaris: Having to go to customers with a emulation
technology to run their existing programs. When Linux was the underdog,
much was made of the ability to run Solaris and other *nix binaries on
Linux, as a way to allow companies to move their existing applications to
Linux. With Solaris 10, Sun is promising a Linux
Application Environment (LAE) to run Linux binaries on Solaris 10 on
Pricing for Solaris 10 has changed as well. Sun is, literally, giving it
away. Sun is giving a "right-to-use" (RTU) license and security updates for
Solaris 10 at no charge. Customers who want to utilize support or have
access to all Solaris 10 updates and fixes start at $120 per year for a 1-4
The company is also making much of binary compatibility with Solaris 10 --
promising customers that older Solaris applications will be able to run
unchanged on Solaris 10.
Perhaps the most interesting feature for Solaris 10 is the licensing, if we
ever find out what it is. According to Sun's executives, Solaris 10 will be
open source. However, the company has not yet announced a license, whether
the license will be OSI-compliant or
exactly how much of Solaris 10 will be under this open source
license. Further, assuming that the license is open enough to encourage
contribution, Sun hasn't set out any information about accepting
contributions from the community.
A more ominous possibility exists: Sun could release its code under a
license which is not only non-free, but which creates problems for any free
software developers who look at that code. If Sun's fortunes continue to
decline, there is a definite possibility that the company could look to
litigation for its salvation. This possibility should be kept in mind by
anybody who contemplates going anywhere near the Solaris code.
Obviously, Sun is trying to regain some of the ground that it has lost with
Linux. It seems unlikely, at least to this writer, that Sun will make much
headway in regaining lost customers with Solaris 10. While Solaris 10
offers some undeniably useful and interesting features, it's fairly obvious
that most organizations do not choose operating systems on features alone.
Sun lacks the momentum that Linux has gained over the past few
years. Companies that have already invested time and money into migrating
to Linux are less likely to spend additional time and money evaluating
Solaris 10 if Linux is meeting their needs. Companies that are already
utilizing Linux are unlikely to even bother evaluating Solaris 10 unless
Linux does not meet their needs.
Also, Sun's LAE won't be available in the first release of Solaris 10,
meaning that organizations that are willing to consider migrating from
Linux to Solaris will have to hold off until Sun releases LAE in an update
to Solaris 10. This puts Sun even farther in the hole with regards to
losing customers to Linux.
If the Solaris 10 license is GPL-compatible, many of Solaris 10's
interesting features will no doubt find their way into Linux. It seems
unlikely that Sun would choose that path. On the other hand, if Sun chooses
a less friendly open source license, it will have a tough time creating a
community that will drive Solaris development or adoption in the same way
that the GPL has driven Linux. Either way, Sun seems set to lose with its
open source ploy.
Solaris 10 looks to be a fine operating system, but it may very well be too
little and too late to help Sun regain its market share.
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