OpenSolaris Ready for Prime Time

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Sun Microsystems on Monday will launch a supported version of OpenSolaris at the CommunityOne conference in San Francisco.

After working on OpenSolaris for three years, Sun now has a supported distribution, called 2008.5, available.

"It's a major milestone in the development of OpenSolaris, and opens the door for more deployments," said Kjell Högström, senior systems engineer at Sun in Sweden.

An official price list for support will become available on May 13, according to a spokeswoman for Sun. However, prices for OpenSolaris Support will compare to other support services on the market, she adds.

Sun from now on will upgrade OpenSolaris every six months.

Sun sees several opportunities for the open-source version of Solaris. For one, it wants OpenSolaris to become a part of the burgeoning cloud computing trend. The company will be working with Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) platform.

Högström also wants to compete with Linux and the LAMP software stack, which combines Linux with the Apache Web server, database server MySQL, which Sun owns, and programming languages Perl, PHP and Python.

"AMP is the important part, the operating system is there to support the applications, and we can do that at least as good as Linux," said Högström.

But it won't be able to compete with Linux overnight.

"We first have to earn the trust of customers," said Högström.

He still sees existing customers using the regular-version Solaris in the data center for applications like databases, but OpenSolaris is becoming popular among developers.

There are a couple of features that will give OpenSolaris an edge over other open-source based operating systems, according to Högström.

Two of the most important ones are file system ZFS (Zettabyte File System) and DTrace (Dynamic Tracing), which back in January 2005 was the first part of Solaris to get open-sourced. It is used to analyze, debug and tune system behavior.

"DTrace is a very flexible tool, and it lets you quickly gather measurements. You can use it when the system is up and running, and you don't have to wait for something to happen again," said Högström.

In ZFS Sun has added installation support, something regular Solaris lacks. It will speed up the installation process and use less storage. It also offers support for instant rollback.

Another important feature is OpenSolaris Image Packaging System, which enables packages to be pulled from a network directory -- the standard way of doing things in Linux. Solaris features to do the same thing are starting to get a little long in the tooth.

Sun faces several challenges on the road to success, according to Gartner. It must represent the Linux GNU users without sacrificing the stable brand image of Solaris.

Sun will also have to build a vibrant community with innovation that can keep up with Linux, while maintaining compatibility and stability, and build reference implementations for independent software vendors that minimize re-certifications, Gartner said in a recent report.

OpenSolaris is licensed using Community Development and Distribution License (CDDL), not GPL, which Sun has caught some flack for. But the possibility to mix open- and closed-source code, which GPL doesn't allow, gives it more flexibility, according to Högström.

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