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Open source Solaris -- too little too late?

Sun's recent decision to release the source code of its Solaris 10 operating system is a clear sign that Sun has acknowledged that the open source market can no longer be ignored. But is this move enough to ensure that Solaris has a future?

There's almost no doubt within the Sun user community that Sun's recent decision to release the source code of the Solaris 10 operating system is a reactionary move aimed at curbing the Linux phenomenon, and one long overdue.

But now that Solaris is available for free download -- buildable source code will be in the hands of developers during the second quarter -- there's still one major question concerning the future of one of Sun's flagship operating system.

Will opening Solaris' source code be enough to keep the OS relevant?

Opinions on the subject have fallen largely along proprietary versus open source party lines, but one thing is certain. Sun's days of ignoring open source's impact on the user community are over, and the company has finally done something about it.

Tony Iams, a senior analyst at D.H. Brown Associates Inc., was skeptical when he heard that Sun was planning to move toward open source Solaris. But after hearing Sun's strategy, Iams said he thinks Sun is moving in the right direction.

"Dealing with the Linux phenomenon has been a problem for Sun. It seems like a knee-jerk reaction, but it's fairly well thought-out. Their goals for this are fairly modest and reasonable," Iams said. "I've come to the conclusion that it's a reasonable strategy for what they're trying to do."

They are behind, and they won't deny it, either. The fact is it is reactionary. The Linux threat has woken them up.
Tony Iams
Senior AnalystD.H. Brown Associates Inc.

But many in the open source community view Solaris as an operating system in its twilight years, pushed to the brink of irrelevance by the unfettered growth of Linux. To them, Sun's recent move toward open sourcing is nothing more than a temporary stay of execution.

"Open source software is like public water. You don't flush your toilet with Perrier. When it comes to basic infrastructure, open source shines and it will continue to shine, [and] the notion that you'll pay top price for basic functionality is dead," said Russell Pavlicek, a senior Linux architect and a panelist on the weekly Linux Show Web cast. "This announcement shows that Sun is trying to play by the new rules of the game. For them to come to this decision shows that they understand that the business model they've used for the last 10 years has changed. Solaris for x86 is not long for this world … but its life span has been extended somewhat by this decision."

Even Linux supporters admit, however, that releasing Solaris 10 under the Common Development and Distribution License is a sign that Sun is serious about making the OS work as an open source product. And just 48 hours after releasing it to the public for free, over 90,000 users had downloaded the operating system.

While the success of Linux was the driving force behind the move, it wasn't the only one. Open sourcing Solaris 10 will give Sun a chance to bid for accounts with clients that require the source code be made available to them, such as educational, telecommunications, government and international concerns.

It also gives Sun a chance to increase volume on the line, which will make it more attractive to potential developers and help foster and strengthen relationships within the Solaris development community. Should that happen, Sun is also hoping that those developers will modify and improve Solaris, taking it to places they currently have been unable to go, given a lack of resources and marketing support for the line.

For related information:

Solaris 10 to feature Linux support

IBM downgrades Solaris on x86

Torvalds skeptical of Solaris 10

Whether all this will be enough to make Sun a serious player in the open source market is a matter still up for debate.

"They are behind, and they won't deny it, either. The fact is it is reactionary. The Linux threat has woken them up. Sometimes it takes extreme pressure to [spur action]," Iams said. "Is it too late? It's too early to tell. We'll have to see how it plays out," he said.

Sun was unavailable for comment.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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