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New Illumos Project to Reopen OpenSolaris

By Katherine Noyes
Aug 4, 2010 8:29 AM PT

A new group announced Tuesday aims to create a community-built and -maintained version of Oracle's OpenSolaris operating system in which all portions of the code are open and fully available for use by developers.

New Illumos Project to Reopen OpenSolaris

Called "Illumos," the new project will replace the closed portions of Oracle's OpenSolaris code with open versions, making it possible for developers to create their own solutions based on the software.

"Right now, it's almost impossible to build derivative products from OpenSolaris," Garrett D'Amore, tech lead for the Illumos project and senior director of engineering with Nexenta, told LinuxInsider.

Currently, closed portions of OpenSolaris include numerous critical drivers along with other facets necessary for building upon the operating system.

'Concerns About Business Continuity'

In recent months, Oracle has significantly reduced its support for OpenSolaris as a distribution, Illumos noted. Oracle inherited OpenSolaris when it acquired Sun Microsystems in January.

As a result, "there are concerns about business continuity" and the ability for businesses offering OpenSolaris-based solutions to continue supporting their customers, D'Amore explained.

Nexenta is one such business, but "this is a shared concern across the community," D'Amore asserted. Such businesses "want this functionality and they want the assurances open source is supposed to give them.

"Those assurances are now compromised by the closed source code," he added.

'Reinvigorating the Community'

Similar in many ways to a fork of Oracle's OS/Net (ON), Illumos will feature an open source libc, kernel and drivers, and it will be 100 percent ABI-compatible with Solaris ON. It will also track ON closely and integrate any source changes into its code base.

The closed portions of Oracle's code are "critical," D'Amore explained. "You can't build a good system without them."

By opening up that code -- writing some of it anew and porting other portions from other open systems with more liberal licenses -- "we hope to solve the critical problem that has kept people from being able to move forward with building solutions on top of this technology," he said. "We're reinvigorating the community with a sense of optimism, excitement and participation."

Independence from Oracle

In addition to opened internalization libraries and open replacements for closed binaries, Illumos will maintain patches and bug fixes that Oracle does not choose to integrate but that the community believes are important nonetheless.

Ultimately, the project may expand to host other affiliated projects or even serve as a repository for experimental innovations, potentially including X11 components, desktop components, C++ runtime or new distributions.

"We can also provide support for hardware beyond what Oracle is interested in supporting," D'Amore pointed out. "One of the drivers we're planning," for example, "is for a network card that Oracle just recently dropped support for."

Besides Nexenta, which is a major sponsor of the project, other community partners include Joyent, berliOS, SchilliX and BeleniX. Oracle has also been invited to participate as a peer, and Illumos welcomes other corporate partners and individual participants as well. Membership in the meritocracy-based project is currently by appointment.

'An Open Source Future'

Hardware supported by Illumos includes x86 and amd64 along with VMware, VirtualBox, SPARC and others. Work already completed includes replacing the closed parts of libc and most critical closed source utilities along with some drivers.

"This creates a genuinely open community repository that anyone with merit can get access to," open source advocate Simon Phipps told LinuxInsider. Formerly the chief open source officer at Sun, Phipps still serves on the OpenSolaris governing board.

"It's a great move that once again gives Solaris an open source future," Phipps added.

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