Sun Microsystems has made a big show of its open source Solaris release and
its attempts to build a working development community around that system.
So a number of members of the OpenSolaris community were rather surprised
when the press started running articles
stating that Sun had decided to embark upon a project to make Solaris look
more like Linux. This community was of the opinion that, if it was
expected to endorse and participate in "Project Indiana," it might have
been nice to know before Sun employees started talking to the media about
The person behind this effort, of course, is Ian Murdock, formerly of the
Linux community. His position now can be understood from this
When people say they want Linux, they don't actually mean they want
Linux. What they want is the Linux userland user environment and
the Linux business model. They want choice. They want the Linux
distribution and I'm the Linux distribution guy.
Project Indiana, it seems, is Sun's attempt to win over all of those people
who only think they want Linux, but who really want a version
of Solaris that looks likes Linux.
Many of the goals of this project, as far as they can be determined at this
early stage, would seem to make sense. Better package management, for
example. More device drivers. Easier installation. A more Linux-like
user space with our (relatively) bleeding-edge 1990's shell. And, says Ian, a switch to timed release cycles:
The big feature from my point of view though is the 6 mo. timed
release cycle. Timed release cycles have done wonders to introduce
predictability into other open source projects (e.g., Gnome,
Ubuntu). And 6 mos. is the clear winner in terms of frequency among
Linux community/developer distros--it's just enough time to do
interesting work AND have a reasonably long hardening period so the
thing is stable.
Ubuntu comes up frequently in the discussion; it's clear that some people
at Sun see Ubuntu as a model worth emulating.
For those of us who have been working with free software for a while, there
is a certain irony in this whole plan. A Linux-like Solaris is not a
particularly new concept; for many years, that's how much of the community
experienced free software. Before there was a Linux system in a reasonably
usable state, the best system to have on one's desk usually came from Sun.
As soon as it came in the door, however, it would be loaded up with crucial
packages like the X Window System, gcc, netrek, emacs, and so on. Many
years ago, we all had systems which, in some ways, looked like what Project
Indiana is trying to build now. Those systems did not keep an awful lot of
us from jumping to Linux, though, and their cost was only part of the
reason for switching.
We switched to Linux because it was free, alive, fun, and clearly going
places. There was always something new and interesting happening,
especially in those days when running development kernels on production
systems was a necessary part of making things work. All these years later,
there is still always something new and interesting, and, often, it even
comes nicely packaged on a regular schedule. Not many of us are looking
back to the systems we used to run.
So it is no surprise that the folks at Sun are putting such a big emphasis
on trying to duplicate the things that Linux does right. A similar user
space, timely releases, easy upgrades, and, especially, the creation of a
vibrant community around Solaris. The thinking seems to be that, if they
make a system which looks like Linux but which contains their kernel (which
they feel to be superior - a view which is not universally shared in the
Linux community), the world will flock to their door.
There have been no real (public) decisions on how this project will
proceed; the process for creating an official OpenSolaris project has not
yet begun. There has been some initial discussion where it has been
suggested that the project start by adopting the work of either BeleniX or Nexenta. This idea drew an immediate
complaint from our old friend Jörg
Schilling, creator of SchilliX,
but it appears that the OpenSolaris community listens to Jörg about as
much as the Linux community does. Regardless, it will take some time
before the real shape of Project Indiana emerges.
It will take even more time before we see if this project has any real
impact. Certainly it should make life easier for Solaris users. But "a
better Linux than Linux" is not a particularly compelling sales message.
It might just turn out that people who say they want Linux actually want
Linux, not another system dressed up in similar clothes. Imitation may be
the sincerest form of flattery, but it is usually a poor way to regain
one's past prominence.
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