RealTime IT News

Split Reactions to Sun's OpenSolaris

Reaction to Sun Microsystems' launch of its OpenSolaris initiative is apparently related to the size of the enterprise and its attachment to the open source community.

In some cases, the larger the company -- and its investment in Linux -- the more vocally opposed it is to Sun's liberation of Solaris source code and the release of more than 1,600 of Sun's patents associated with the OS.

Sun started its foray into open source Solaris Tuesday with a code release of its diagnostic DTrace application. Buildable source code for Solaris will be available at the OpenSolaris site in the second quarter of 2005, the company said.

On the same day it released Solaris source code, Sun's main open source rivals IBM, Novell and Red Hat made public statements through indirect channels. Each dismissed Sun's open source moves.

"Sun Solaris has lost its grasp in the server market. Opening Solaris is a last resort by Sun to hold on to its customer base. It is a case of too little, too late," said Lisette Kwong, a representative for IBM, which released the source code on its embedded database Cloudscape technology in August 2004.

Novell Linux marketing director Greg Mancusi-Ungaro told the Financial Times that Sun should prepare itself for a confrontation if it is serious about building a community that runs parallel to other open source initiatives like Linux. "Sun is on the first square on a board with many squares," Mancusi-Ungaro, who serves as marketing director at Novell's Linux unit, told the publication.

"How is Sun going to instantly attract hundreds or thousands of developers to Solaris when they have never had the opportunity to work with the source code before?" Red Hat Associate General Counsel Mark Webbink mulled in a letter issued to the press. "Red Hat has experienced this before with some of the companies we have acquired. It is much harder to build a community around pre-existing software than one might believe."

Oracle and SAP -- two traditional core supporters of Sun Solaris -- have yet to made public statements. However, Dana Gardner, a senior analyst with IT research firm The Yankee Group, predicted a future in which Oracle promotes Unbreakable Open Solaris. The analyst also suggested SAP packaged with Open Solaris for SMBs could also be a potent combination.

"Sun has the opportunity to redefine what's the best new mix of build and buy -- not build or buy -- for both enterprises and ISVs," Gardner told internetnews.com. "If exposing many valuable parts of Solaris 10 through an open source license allows operations-minded developers to gain higher performance for their applications in production, this is good. Too much emphasis in open source has been on up-front costs, and not enough on integrity and performance that will cut total costs over time."

Gardner also commented that the embedded market in particular is seeking consolidation, and an open source Solaris will bear careful comparison to Linux in real-time applications.

"And we should not just compare Open Solaris to Linux, we should also carefully compare it to Windows Server System," Gardner said. "On issues of datacenter performance, security, and cost over time, those Unix shops considering a move to Windows should take a hard look at Solaris and Open Solaris in tandem."

While a broader acceptance by the open source community was sorely missing at the OpenSolaris.org launch, some distributions are hoping to bridge the gap. In its weekly newsletter, Gentoo said it is planning to add OpenSolaris support to its Portage software platform.

"Pieter Van den Abeele has been working closely with Sun's management, legal and engineering teams to prepare this move," Gentoo said in its newsletter. "Gentoo will be leveraging the hard work of long-time Solaris users and Gentoo Developers-in-training Sunil Kumar and Jason Wohlgemuth, whose 'Portaris' project has been running on top of Solaris 9 and 10 builds for quite a while already."

Michael Dortch, a principal analyst with IT consultancy Robert Frances Group said that now that Solaris is well on the road to being an open source offering, Sun would do well to embrace Linux instead of fighting it.

"Solaris 10 brings some potentially significant strengths to enterprise deployments and explorations of Linux, and Sun could engender a lot of 'anti-FUD' about Linux, Solaris, and Sun itself by articulating road maps that embrace and support Linux in ways that translate into business benefits for enterprise customers," Dortch said.

Perhaps Sun's biggest internal "cultural" challenge with OpenSolaris, said Illuminata senior analyst Gordon Haff, is that Sun will have to cede a measure of control if it wants to foster a vibrant development community.

"Contributors and developers will have to feel that they have a real say in the future of Solaris," Haff said. "Sun will still play a big role but it can't be a dictator -- even a benevolent one."

Sun CEO Scott McNealy said an IP contribution of this magnitude has the potential to strengthen the overall open source community -- or at least get nay-sayers off its back.

"We've done everything that was expected and even more," McNealy said during a conference call with press and analysts. "The measure of success of OpenSolaris is more contributors, more embedded OEM use and adoption by other open source communities."

Historically, McNealy pointed out, Sun has contributed more code to open source initiatives than all other organizations with the exception of UC Berkeley, and remains committed engineering support for Apache, Mozilla, Gnome, OpenOffice, Grid, JXTA, ODSL and other open source projects.

In addition, McNealy boasted the significance of Sun's donation of the source code of StarOffice software. The alternative to enterprise productivity suites like Microsoft Office is based on the OpenOffice suite and bundled with most versions of Linux.