Sun goes sort-of open source with Solaris

Sun Microsystems is making its Solaris operating system source code publicly available to developers under its 'community-source license'' program in a move apparently aimed at mimicking the success of Linux.

Sun Microsystems is making its Solaris operating system source code publicly available to developers under its "community-source license'' program in a move apparently aimed at mimicking the success of Linux.

Under the Sun program, developers and users can download Solaris source code for free and make changes to the operating system so long as all the changes are reported back to Sun. But developers will still have to pay license fees to Sun if they decide to use any Solaris code in commercial products.

This means that most users are unlikely to see any immediate changes in the way they acquire or pay for Solaris products.

But the move could be useful for the handful of companies that may occasionally need to make changes at a source-code level, said Rex Hays, a design engineer at the advanced development product group of Eastman Kodak Co. in Rochester, New York.

Kodak in the past, for instance, has paid Sun for access to Solaris source code when embedding the operating system into some of its products. Giving it away for free "would be a very nice thing,'' Hays said. "But it would be interesting to see how much of the source they give away, though,'' he added, because in the past, Sun has always held back some code under its source licensing program.

Sun may be trying to capitalise on the growing developer interest around non-Microsoft technologies, such as Linux and Java, said Laurie McCabe, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc. in Boston. "The whole developer community was going the Microsoft way 'til Linux and Java came along. This is another of those attempts by Sun to shake up the old status quo,'' she said.

Others, though, were more skeptical. Stacey Quandt at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Giga Information Group Inc. said developers aren't likely to rally around Solaris when, at the end of the day, they still would have to pay to use it. Sun's community license isn't the same as the General Public License (GPL) that has made Linux famous. "I view (Sun's license) as a proprietary license, it is not an open-source license,'' Quandt said. "Sun is trying to wrap itself in appeal of open source and say 'we are a community,' but it is a community behind walls.''

The GPL allows anyone to see and use the source code of Linux and to make changes to it at no charge. The only requirement is that the changed code must be shared with the public, also at no charge.

Ultimately Sun's move is unlikely to amount to much, agreed Jonathan Eunice, an analyst at Illuminata Inc., a consultancy in Nashua, New Hampshire. "If they had done something like this years ago, they would have probably been a leader of the open revolution,"Eunice said. "Now it looks like they are chasing the Linux tail."

Importantly, opening up Solaris would also make it easier for rivals to get easier access to core Solaris differentiators like its high-end partitioning technology, Eunice said. "The question they need to ask is: All this for what?''

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