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Sun Solaris Open-Source Release Still Undecided

Sun Microsystems expects to publicly debut Solaris 10 on Nov. 15, but its plans to release an open-source version of the Unix operating system remain in limbo.

Unix operating system

Although Solaris 10 for UltraSPARC, Intel x86-based and AMD Opteron-based servers is expected to be finished by the end of the year and ship in the first quarter of 2005, details of an open-source version of Solaris have not been finalized, Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz confirmed during a briefing in San Francisco last week.

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

"There is a lot of discussion going on within Sun as to what will be open source and what won't be, and under which license model," said Michael Holve, president of LitPixel Productions, a New York-based consulting firm that operates a Web site specializing in Solaris content. "There's definitely something afoot, and Sun would need to gain something by this. They're not open-sourcing anything just to give people warm fuzzies."

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

The Unix leader plans 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 it being the popular GNU general public license are "as good as" it being any other license. Sources close to the OSI, however, said Sun has not yet submitted any proposals for an open-source Solaris.

Reactions in the channel and among open-source backers were mixed. Some open-source proponents say Sun will not be able to replicate for Solaris the success of StarOffice-OpenOffice.org, its commercial and open-source Office suite. "Had they open-sourced Solaris in 2000, it would have been a game changer, [but] today it is too late," said Marc Fleury, president of JBoss, Atlanta.

While not all channel partners are convinced that Sun will open all of the crown jewels in Solaris 10, the first major upgrade of the Unix OS since 2002, some partners said the company's plans reassure them that Sun will keep Solaris alive and more open for mixed environments.

"Open Solaris is not the end of the utility of Solaris as a product but an opportunity for those that make or use products that touch Solaris to improve the level of integration and interoperability," said Douglas Nassaur, president and CEO of True North Technology, Alpharetta, Ga.

David Auerweck, vice president of strategic markets for Sun solution provider partner Helio Solutions, Santa Clara, Calif., said he is bullish about an open-source Solaris, and expects that even Sun's hardware competitors will embrace the move.

"I think [Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Dell] will look at it as another open-source version of Unix rather than as a Trojan horse for a competitive stance against them," Auerweck said. "It's not like [Solaris] doesn't run on their servers."

Auerweck added that Helio will continue to sell Solaris licensing and support once the operating system is open-sourced.

One partner said it would be a big mistake for Sun to open-source Solaris.

"It would make no sense. If they did [open-source Solaris] it could be good for us in the short term because use of Solaris might expand, briefly," said Ron Herardian, chief systems architect at Global System Services, Mountain View, Calif. "Making Solaris open-source would be irrelevant at best. At worst it would be a blunder that would bring about the disintegration of the Sun installed base and accelerate the decline of SPARC hardware sales, while bolstering Linux and open source as an alternative to commercial Unix."

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