Sun lets Solaris loose

Sun Microsystems Inc. Tuesday made good on its promise to open source its Solaris operating system, releasing code for a diagnostic piece of the software and promising to have full, "buildable" code available in the next few months.

In a conference call with reporters, Sun CEO Scott McNealy announced that the source code for the Unix-based operating system would be available under the Open Source Initiative (OSI)-approved Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL).

Sun submitted the CDDL to the OSI for approval last month, but didn't say at the time how it intended to use the license. CDDL, a derivative of the Mozilla Public License, enables users to combine the open source code with proprietary software to create commercial products. Modifications to OpenSolaris, however, must be shared with the open source community.

In announcing OpenSolaris, McNealy highlighted the fact that Sun was releasing more than 1,600 patents related to Solaris to the open source community. That move is an effort to remove intellectual property rights as a barrier to innovation, McNealy said.

"We have absolutely done something nobody else in the open source community has done and that is add open source patent indemnification," he said. "Sun is assigning our 1,600 OS-related patents to the CDDL licensees that allows them to operate in a safe haven environment, a safe harbor."

The code will be available at the OpenSolaris community Web site. Sun is making code for the new DTrace diagnostic tool in Solaris 10 available on the site immediately in an effort to demonstrate a commitment to the effort, says John Loiacono, executive vice president of Sun's software group.

The rest of the code, some 10 million lines, will be available in the second quarter, Loiacono says.

"The intent for us is to make it buildable, which means you have to have all the critical components available," he says.

Sun also announced the formation of a Community Advisory Board to oversee the evolution of OpenSolaris and steer community development efforts. The advisory board, which will include two people from the OpenSolaris pilot community, two Sun employees and one member of the broader open source community will be finalized in March.

Sun is using its open source push in an effort to drive broader adoption of Solaris, which now can run on inexpensive x86-based servers. Sun, which built its business with high-end Risc-based systems running Solaris, has seen a good deal of its business eaten away by low-end systems running Linux.

The goal is to widen the base for Solaris by getting more people involved in writing applications and developing drivers, for example, Loiacono says.

"The people that are using Solaris, the more involvement there is, the more opportunity there is to sell other products, whether its storage products, software development tools or software stack, or even systems," he says. "The fact is right now we're trying to broaden the base and broaden the appeal of who's actually using Solaris. The more people that use Solaris in a broader format the more opportunities we have to sell our complementary tools and technologies."

Sun sees opportunities with OpenSolaris in academia and government, where many organizations require open source in the foundation of software products, Loiacono said. In addition, the company is targeting emerging markets such as gaming, life sciences and high performance technical computing, where open source has a strong hold.

As for enterprise users, Sun doesn't expect most enterprise customers to make the move to OpenSolaris. The company will continue to offer services and support for its branded Solaris product, company officials said.

At the same time, Sun officials hinted that other products may find their way into the open source community, including Sun's software stack -- the Java Enterprise Server.

"All in all, Sun is hoping to regain that position and that image and that reputation as being the biggest friend of community development and open source out there in the marketplace," McNealy says.

Industry observers, however, question how successful Sun will be with its open source efforts, especially since Sun has made ties with Microsoft and has been a strong critic of Linux in the past.

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