Expectations are high that Sun Microsystems will make some significant announcements this month about an open-source version of its Solaris operating system.
Reportedly, key pieces to the open-source project could be revealed as early as November 15 when the company has scheduled its quarterly SunNetwork Conference at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, California.
“Making Solaris open source is a very risky thing to do because a lot of Sun’s core value is in the Solaris code base,” Laura Koetzle, senior analyst with Forrester Research, told LinuxInsider.
Could See Payoff
While Sun makes a lot of money selling expensive hardware, Koetzle maintained, it’s the company’s software that brings sizzle to its users.
“Sun makes a lot of money by selling expensive purple things that blink, but the value delivered to the user by those expensive purple things that blink is through the Solaris software system,” she explained.
As gnarly as Sun’s open-source foray may be, it also has great potential for the company, Koetzle asserted. “It’s a risky move, but it could well pay off for them in the long run,” she said. “It will build tremendous credibility with the development community.”
“The hope with this is to bring more of the innovation that’s outside Sun’s core development team into the Solaris code base,” she observed.
It’s a way to get some gratis R&D, asserted Nicholas Petreley, an analyst with Evans Data Corp. in Santa Cruz, California.
People interested in Solaris can look at the code and submit improvements to Sun to be included in future versions of the software, he explained. “They get a lot of free research and development that way,” he said.
“That’s what they’ve done with Open Office,” he added. “There’s a lot of volunteers working on Open Office. Sun just adopts those changes into Star Office, add a few of their own and sell it commercially.”
Even if Solaris becomes open source in name, an unanswered question is, will the software be open source in substance?
“It remains to be seen what the particulars will be and how Sun crafts the license for open-source Solaris,” said Dwight Davis, vice president and practice director for Boston-based Summit Strategies.
“It will almost certainly not be as liberal as the open-source license for Linux,” he told LinuxInsider. “So it will probably not pacify those in the open-source community who think you have to have completely free and open access to code and the ability to do anything you like with it.”
Sun’s move to make Solaris an open-source operating system isn’t expected to check the momentum of its major rival in the market, Linux.
Sun’s move toward open-source Solaris “will shore up customer loyalty among people who are already heavily invested in Solaris technology, but I don’t see it gaining a lot of new seats,” Open Source Initiative President Eric Raymond said.
Cheap Hardware Hurts
He contended that Sun’s strategic problem is related to falling hardware prices. In the past, to build a good server you needed a special high-end processor, special high-speed disk drives, an extra wide system bus — a lot of things that are standard now on US$200 PCs, he said.
“Their server market is being systematically undercut by cheap PCs on which people are throwing Linux,” said Raymond.
Although Sun may not be able to dam the surge behind Linux, according to Summit Strategies’ Davis, it can still be a survivor.
“I don’t think Sun can counter the entire Linux trend and the momentum for that operating system, but I think they can make a good case for a battle-tested, commercial version of Unix as an alternative to Linux,” Davis said.
“Sun doesn’t have to own the whole market to realize some significant benefits for Sun. It just has to carve out a defensible niche for its platform and hardware. There’s some possibility that it can pull that off.”