Will Sun Rise on a Linux-ized OpenSolaris?

Sun Microsystems is working on releasing an easy-to-install binary version of its OpenSolaris open source operating system with delivery planned for early 2008, the company told the press Thursday in a meeting in San Francisco. The idea is to deliver OpenSolaris in a packaged distribution method modeled after the ease of distribution used with Linux. The initiative is called “Project Indiana,” and it’s a key component of Sun’s open source efforts. It, along with Sun’s community, is facing a mixed bag of challenge and opportunity.

At the bottom of the mixed bag, Sun sees an opportunity to leverage a community of open source enthusiasts to develop, test and help deliver new solutions for OpenSolaris, which Sun might then be able to utilize in its enterprise-level Solaris operating system. In addition, OpenSolaris can introduce a growing number of Linux professionals to Solaris.

Sitting on top of the mixed bag, however, is the OpenSolaris community itself, as well as Linux enthusiasts who don’t necessarily believe that Sun will bring great benefit to the open source community — after all, Sun is a commercial business focused on profit.

The Center of the Sun

“As Sun has evolved as a company, there’s been a recognition within the company that Sun needed to expand both its product and customer base in order to continue to be a vital, valid vendor moving forward,” Charles King, principal analyst for Pund-IT, told LinuxInsider.

“The traditional Solaris on SPARC (scalable processor architecture) ‘ber-alles‘ kind of attitude started wearing thin several years ago, and the company’s embrace of x86 and a less traditional approach to microprocessor development reflects the recognition that the company needs to move into new areas,” King noted.

“Solaris is a big part of that, and it draws a comparison to IBM and HP, in that Sun has an operating system that works very well on other platforms, as opposed to IBM’s AIX (advanced interactive executive) and HP’s HP-UX (Hewlett Packard Unix),” he added.

Looking for Mojo

“With OpenSolaris, Sun looked around and saw the community mojo that was driving Linux development further and further as a commercial distribution — and leading to great success for companies that were leveraging Linux,” King explained. “Sun basically said, ‘Geez, that looks like a great model. If we open source Solaris, maybe we can get some of that community feeling going around Solaris, because hey, look, Solaris has been around longer than Linux and has a great feature set.'”

Sun launched a couple of years ago, but recently amped up action by hiring Ian Murdock in March. Murdock founded Debian Linux and was the CTO of the Linux Foundation. With Murdock, Sun launched Project Indiana, which has the primary goal of creating an OpenSolaris binary distribution that will provide a single CD install with the basic core OS and desktop environment.

One of the key benefits of most Linux distributions is the easy install process — while OpenSolaris requires far more work to just install than most Linux pros are prepared for.

“We need to make ‘OpenSolaris’ something you can touch, something you can ‘Download Now!’ and run on your laptop to try out the latest and greatest from the OpenSolaris community,” Murdock explained on his blog.

Tapping Innovation

By making OpenSolaris more accessible via Project Indiana, Sun may be able to better tap into the Linux-related open source community, driving additional innovation into OpenSolaris. By using OpenSolaris as a free testing ground for innovative new solutions and features, Sun can then integrate the best into its commercial Solaris OS.

The fact that Sun has commercial interests that are tied closely to its open source interests has the side effect of creating suspicion.

“Sun has a great goal, but from what I’m seeing, it’s going through some severe growing pains at the same time,” King explained.

“Any time that you engage in community building … which is usually an organic process … and you build a truly egalitarian community and invite feedback, you’ll almost assuredly get feedback, and not always terribly positive feedback. So, we’re seeing some of that now,” he said.

Enter Linus Torvalds

In June, Linux creator Linus Torvalds nailed Sun in a post on “They may be talking a lot more than they are or ever will be doing. How many announcements about Sun and Linux have you seen over the years? And how much of that has actually happened?” he wrote.

Torvalds accused Sun of wanting to use Linux resources but not wanting to give anything back.

“Am I cynical? Yes. Do I expect people to act in their own interests? Hell yes! That’s how things are supposed to happen. I’m not at all berating Sun, what I’m trying to do here is to wake people up who seem to be living in some dream-world where Sun wants to help people,” he wrote.

Enter Jonathan Schwartz

The next day, President and CEO Jonathan Schwartz, on his blog, posted an open reply to Torvalds, which included an invitation to dinner.

“We should put the swords down — you’re not the enemy for us, we’re not the enemy for you,” Schwartz wrote.

“I wanted you to hear this from me directly. We want to work together, we want to join hands and communities — we have no intention of holding anything back, or pulling patent nonsense,” he added.

The next Project Indiana announcement will likely come this fall, Terri Molini, a Sun spokesperson, told LinuxInsider. The timing is not nailed down, but the expectation is that Sun will provide a pre-release binary distribution of OpenSolaris.

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