Does OpenSolaris Matter?


I’m not sure.

Sun first announced OpenSolaris in 2005 but they keep finding ways to announce ‘first releases’. Yesterday was one such release.

I’ve written about a number of OpenSolaris releases over the years, often though under the guise of the Solaris Express Developer edition mantle as well as OpenSolaris based distributions like Nexanta (which uses Debian)

Apparently though after three years of development, Sun is now finally ready to make an OpenSolaris branded release stand on its own.

Why didn’t OpenSolaris have a full release in the beginning
just like any other normal open source operating system distribution?

Well I suppose you could argue that their new Project Indiana
package system (now called the OpenSolaris Image Packaging System – IPS)) is one reason.

 But hey wait a minute, open source packaging system…sounds vaguely familiar…

About 10 years ago I was really excited when RPM came
out. Isn’t IPS just an RPM-type system for Solaris? And if so, isn’t this 10
years late?

Don’t get me wrong on a personal level I think Sun is doing a
lot of things right. I’m actually writing this post on a LiveCD version of
OpenSolaris now.

I also think Sun is moving in the right
direction with OpenSolaris — an open community approach to developing an OS is
the right way to drive innovation. What I question is how long it is taking to
get there and how they may lag behind Linux development in terms of adoption.

What I question is how open OpenSolaris actually is in terms
of reciprocity.

After all OpenSolaris is licensed under CDDL and not GPL
like Linux. Smarter minds than mine have noted that the GPL is the magic
sauce that helped to make Linux more successful than the BSDs
.  CDDL does not require reciprocity so in
practice a company could extend OpenSolaris code and not be required to
contribute back.

While some might want to compare OpenSolaris against Linux,
I think the closer comparison is with FreeBSD. 
They both share a common Unix heritage and they both have BSD type
non-reciprocal licenses. FreeBSD also may yet benefit from Dtrace and ZFS as
well whereas it is unlikely that those technologies (in the form that Sun
licenses them) will be integrated in any significant way in any mainstream
Linux distribution.

OpenSolaris also may prove to have a commercial
competitive edge over FreeBSD as well in that Sun with offers full commercial support. FreeBSD does have many people supporting it
but it doesn’t have the strength of a Sun behind it.

So where does that leave OpenSolaris? 

Well I think OpenSolaris matters to those
that would consider BSD. For Linux users, OpenSolaris is still playing a bit of
catchup and it will be interesting to see over time if it does in fact catch up
in terms of community and broad participation. 
When and if Sun will ever be able to claim (like the Linux Foundation) that it has thousands of contributors from a wide spectrum of vendors remains to be seen. Participation alone does not dictate if an open source effort matters, but it sure does affect adoption. 

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