Analysis: How Open Will Open Solaris Really Be?

Sun won approval last week from the Open Source Initiative (OSI) for its Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL), giving Sun official open-source status. The CDDL is widely expected to cover an open source version of Solaris, called Open Solaris, that the Santa Clara, Calif., company will detail at a news conference on January 25.

Russ Nelson, vice president of OSI, said the CDDL (pronounced cuddle) is more akin to the Mozilla Public License (MPL) used by Netscape and Firefox than the General Public License than governs Linux. CDDL is also more contributor-friendly than the GPL, and is shored up to prevent litigation issues, he added.

Sun would not detail which Solaris components will be available for public consumption and distribution, but in a short statement about OSI approval it said: "Sun believes that CDDL is a useful improvement to the Mozilla Public License (MPL) upon which it is based and that it represents good work that can benefit the open source community." Sun announced last June its intention to provide an open source version of Solaris, although it has declined to specify what exactly it will offer under its open source license. The company said Sun Solaris 10 will be available via download January 31. Sun Solaris 10, with packaged media for partners and customers, will be available March 7.

CDDL shares some characteristics of the GPL in that all modifications to the source code must be made available and distributed under the same license, said Anne Thomas Manes, an analyst with the Burton Group. "But it's slightly less restrictive [than the GPL] in that executables may be distributed under a different license."

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She said the CDDL, for instance, permits users to combine the package with other software and distribute it under a different license. CDDL also includes an explicit patent license. While these are all features of the MPL, she said "CDDL has strengthened the patent licensing section, providing more protection for contributors and users."

Despite the favorable terms of the open source license, its value depends on the core components that are open sourced. Gartner Group's George Weiss, for example, said a whole range of questions remain regarding which Solaris 10 features -- the kernel, file system, containers and virtualization technology -- will be made available, and what restrictions will apply to different parts of the kernel. Still, many observers believe that if most of Solaris 10 is released under CDDL, it could help revitalize the Solaris industry, which in recent years has lost significant ground to Linux.

"If I were using Solaris, I would be very, very excited," said Nelson. "You'll see a more active marketplace for Open Solaris than you've seen so far for Solaris -- more people offering different services and hardware bundles." Sun's commercial partners aren't so sure. For them, the proprietary, commercial release of Solaris 10 will decide Sun's fate. "I think the Open Solaris will have far less influence or impact than the pure quality of Solaris 10. The pricing isn't changing --it isn't free -- just the license structure is modified," said Marc Maselli, president of Back Bay Technologies, a Sun, iForce partner in the Boston area. "I think this is just another move to mobilize uptake, build customer base, and fight Suse and Red Hat.

One solution provider who focuses on open source agrees that the impact will be minimal because CDDL merely extends access to Solaris source code to end users.

"Sun's developers and partners already had access to Solaris source code if they want it," claimed Anthony Awtrey, vice president of integration at Ideal Technology, Orlando, Fla. "Now Sun is just opening the terms under the CDDL to others who may want access. They want to create a community of support like Apache, or Linux, but they are not necessarily allowing leadership and ownership to people outside of Sun."

Burton Group's Manes said Sun is doing all it can to make Solaris more competitive against the leading Windows and Linux operating systems but Open Solaris will not likely cause a seismic shift in market momentum. "Lots of hardware and device vendors, as well as the academic community, will certainly appreciate Open Solaris, but I'm not convinced that it will really tip any scales in most enterprise customers." she said.