Sometimes it seems that Sun has been talking about releasing the Solaris
code for years. Actually, Sun has
been talking about releasing
Solaris for years; see this LWN article from
on the subject. On January 25, however, the company actually
did something about it. The DTrace code from Solaris is available now, and
the full Solaris kernel is set to become available sometime in the second
quarter of 2005. There is, of course, a
hype-filled press release
celebrating the event.
The release appears to be real. A fully buildable system will be made
available under Sun's recently OSI-approved Common Development and
Distribution License (CDDL). Sun does not appear to be holding back
any core components of the kernel. All of the Solaris 10 features
they have been trumpeting - ZFS, DTrace, containers, etc. - will be
included. It would seem that Sun is releasing a system that people might
actually want to run.
The other half of the day's festivities was this
announcement that Sun is releasing 1600 software patents for use with
By giving open source developers free access to Sun(TM) OpenSolaris
related patents under the Common Development and Distribution
License (CDDL), the company is fostering open innovation and
establishing a leadership role in the framework of a patent commons
that will be recognized across the globe.
The announcement is rather short on details - things like which patents are
being released, and under which terms. Nowhere does Sun say explicitly
that only CDDL-licensed software will be licensed to use those
patents, but the early indications are that the company does intend to
limit things in that way. An attempt by LWN to get a clarification from
Sun on this point was not successful.
Sun has repeatedly said that it hopes to build a wider development
community around the OpenSolaris release. Once again, however, the details
are yet to be filled in. There will apparently be a "community advisory board"
with five members, three of whom will be directly chosen by Sun. There is
no word on what the patch acceptance process will be. The OpenOffice.org
process tends toward being bureaucratic and hard to approach; the OpenSolaris
process seems likely to be similar.
Sun has tried to fend off claims that this release is a competitive
response to Linux, but that is clearly what is going on. The company
appears to be trying to set up a parallel free software ecosystem which, it
hopes, will be more attractive than Linux. The components of this strategy
are becoming clear.
For example, Sun has repeatedly gone out of its way to push the claim that
Solaris is better than Linux - or anything else, for that matter. The
various features of Solaris 10 were hyped yet again at the OpenSolaris
teleconference; the company described them, with a straight face, as
"rocket science." The message is clear: why bother with Linux, when the
best is free too?
Then, Sun is stressing its free software credentials. At the
teleconference, Sun executives claimed that the company had been doing open
source for more than 24 years. Sun is now, they say, the number-one source
of free code on the planet. Why bother with those other,
johnny-come-lately companies when Sun has been doing this for so long? At
the teleconference, the claim was made that HP and Dell have not
contributed to Linux - which is clearly untrue.
There is also the indemnification issue, needless to say; indemnification
was mentioned many times at the teleconference. The patent press release
Radically reducing risks associated with using and developing open
source software, Sun is firmly standing behind our products and the
worldwide development community. Armed with access to Solaris OS
platform intellectual property, OpenSolaris developers and
customers alike no longer need patent protection or indemnity from
Sun's and other participants in the OpenSolaris community for use
of Solaris-based technologies under the CDDL and OpenSolaris
There is an obvious attempt here to position Solaris as a safer sort of
free operating system - one with "radically reduced risks." It may be true
that OpenSolaris users are less likely to be sued - by Sun itself, at
least. The CDDL will also make suits by any other company which uses
OpenSolaris unlikely. None of this will help against suits from litigation
companies with no software business of their own, however.
Speaking of litigation companies, the SCO Group has not yet given its
thoughts on the OpenSolaris announcement. Sun executives claimed at the
teleconference that the company's Unix licenses allowed it to release the
code with no need to consult further with SCO. We asked SCO if it agreed,
but got no response.
The last piece of the puzzle is the CDDL, which serves to effectively
isolate the Solaris and Linux kernels from each other. Solaris will live
in its own world; any useful code it contains cannot be copied over to
Linux, or to any of the BSD variants. You can play with Sun's nice toys,
but you have to stay on Sun's turf.
All of this might just work. There are good things in OpenSolaris, and the
code will soon be truly free. But it takes more than a code dump to create
a development community. Whether Sun can create enough outside interest to
inspire a wider group of developers to help out remains to be seen - as
will Sun's ability to let go and let that community actually run with the
code. Sun will not have gained much if the outside developers end up
creating their own OpenSolaris fork.
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