After months of hinting about its intentions, Sun Microsystems has confirmed it will release source code from its Solaris operating system under an open source license.
An open source Solaris is in the works, Sun spokesperson Russ Castronovo has confirmed. However, he declines to reveal any significant details about the project, including what software license Sun will use, whether all of the components of the operating system will be open-sourced, and when, exactly, Sun intends to release an open source Solaris.
"At this time it's in the development phase," Castronovo says. "We're in the thinking about it stage, and looking at details. There are a million details to work out."
The debate over whether to open source Solaris has been a contentious one, according to sources within Sun. As recently as Tuesday, Sun Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy was claiming it would make little sense for Sun to freely release such a valuable asset.
But Sun has, in fact, released a number of open source software products to date.
Already released as open source are the OpenOffice productivity suite, components of the Gnome desktop, and the Tomcat servlet container. However, the company has, until now, declined to release its most important software assets--Solaris and the Java platform--under an open source license.
However, the company has recently stepped up its efforts to lure programmers to develop for its platforms.
Too Late to Catch Linux?
While the central kernel of the Solaris operating system includes some interesting technology, an open source Solaris will need to materialize within the next few months if it is to be of any interest to developers, says Eric Raymond, founder of the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit corporation created to help companies develop open source software licenses.
"If [Sun] doesn't get this done within six months, it's not going to matter at all because Linux is advancing too fast," he says.
Sun has lost a significant portion of its business to Linux servers running on inexpensive Intel-based systems. Linux server shipments grew by 57 percent year-over-year in the first quarter of 2004, while sales of Unix servers declined by three percent during that time, according to industry research firm IDC.
The fact that Sun is now planning to open source Solaris is somewhat ironic, Raymond adds. "It is a matter of record that Linux was written because Solaris was too expensive and was closed source," he says. "If they had open sourced it in 1990 or sooner, Linux would never have happened."