Shadows Loom Over Sun's Open Source Plans

Sources point to heated corporate debate as reason for project delay.

November 3, 2004

3 Min Read
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While Sun Microsystems expects to officially debut Solaris 10 at a quarterly event Nov. 15, its plans to release an open-source version of the Unix operating system remain in limbo.

Even though Solaris 10 moves to manufacturing within the next two months -- and is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 2005 -- details about an open-source version of Solaris have not been finalized. That information was confirmed Tuesday by Sun executives, including President and COO Jonathan Schwartz.

Sources close to the vendor say a significant internal debate rages within the highest levels of Sun about the company's open-source Solaris plans, which were first announced in June.

Schwartz would not comment on why details around open-sourcing Solaris remain hazy, but acknowledged that the licensing details are still under discussion with members of the open source community and OSI. Sun has been piloting its open-source plans with roughly 30 members of the open source community, he said.

The Unix leader expects to release all of the major features of Solaris 10 under an "OSI-approved" license, Schwartz said. He would not speculate on what such a license would be, but said that the chances of its being the popular GNU general public license (GPL) were as good as with any other licensing scenario.Sun said Tuesday it expects Solaris 10 code to be finished by the end of the year, though executives told CRN last week that the Unix operating system upgrade is expected to be available on UltraSPARC servers beginning in January and on x86 and AMD Opteron servers shortly thereafter.

Though it seems improbable that Sun would release all of the Solaris intellectual property to the open source community, Schwartz reiterated previous company rhetoric that there will be a nominal difference between the proprietary version of Solaris 10 and what Sun will open source.

Rather than keep some of the Solaris IP for itself, "Our approach is actually to do quite the opposite," Schwartz said. "[We want] to ensure that everything in Solaris that we built -- everything -- is available and open sourced to the community."

Glenn Weinberg, vice president of operating environments at Sun, stressed that some technology in Solaris is owned by third parties, and the Santa Clara, Calif., vendor cannot open source those components if it does not have permission.

"There are limitations to what we can do [because] we don't own all the IP rights to Solaris," Weinberg said. "There are things we have from third parties [that] we don't have rights to yet, or third parties don't want us to expose source code."Another big question mark once Solaris is released to the open-source community is how rival vendors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM -- which have all committed big time to Linux -- will embrace the OS.

With usual jocularity, Schwartz Tuesday predicted that vendors such as HP would be "eager" to license open-source Solaris and offer an entire line of new hardware based on Sun's OS. Then he got serious and said he was "optimistic" that support for open-source Solaris would come from Sun's largest hardware competitors.

Sun recently made Solaris available on x86-based servers from HP, Dell and IBM, but executives were hesitant to discuss the traction Solaris is seeing so far on servers other than those from Sun.

Sun has Solaris co-selling agreements with a host of smaller hardware vendors, such as Rackable Systems and "four of the five vendors by volume in China," said Weinberg. Dell, HP and IBM have not signed such agreements, however, although HP will support Solaris on its hardware.

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