Sun confirms open source plans for Solaris

It appears Sun Microsystems Inc. is preparing to join the open source fray. The company has confirmed that it will release the Intel-based Solaris operating system source code under an open source licence.

At its SunNetwork Shanghai conference this month, Sun COO Jonathan Schwartz and executive vice-president of software, John Loiacono, discussed the company’s intentions to create “a rich, open environment” around Sun’s enterprise class Solaris OS.

In a statement, Sun said it is committed to working with developers, customers and partners on open source and standards-based technology.

“Through the success of Java, we have seen that an open, collaborative development environment accelerates creation of innovative products, solutions and services,” the statement said.

The company is now in the process of collecting customer feedback on its plans and has not released any details in regards to launch dates nor licensing models.

The plan to release the Solaris code is not Sun’s first attempt at the open source space. The company has, in fact, released a number of open source software products to date, including the OpenOffice productivity suite, components of the Gnome desktop and the Tomcat servlet container.

The question remains, however: is this a good move for Sun?

“Personally, I don’t think anybody is going to care,” said Bill Claybrook, president, New River Linux and Grid Computing in Maynard, Mass. “The problem is that if Sun open sources Solaris they will have to be able to attract a community of developers. I am not sure there is a large group of people interested in working on Solaris on x86 (Intel).”

Claybrook said he is unsure of Sun’s reasoning behind the open source plans. When he had spoken with Sun executives recently, Claybrook said he was told the company thought the move could increase the number and variety of Solaris users. But Claybrook said he does not see it happening.

“Some people still think it’s a cool thing to open source something. They don’t really know what they are going to do with it once they open source it. You have to have someone out there that is interested,” he said. “I think what Sun is doing is trying to cause a stir to promote Solaris and is trying to get some publicity. I think (image perception) is a big part of this.”

Claybrook added that if Sun wanted to really take a chunk out of the Linux server market, the company should be thinking less about open sourcing Solaris and more about open sourcing Java.

“Java benefits so many people,” he said. “Sun would gain a lot of kudos if they open sourced it. I think they will eventually.”

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