Enterprise Unix Roundup: Sun Manages Expectations

By Michael Hall (Send Email)
Posted Jan 27, 2005

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Sun's premier of OpenSolaris presented no surprises. Is the slow but steady approach to open source evidence of Sun's long-term commitment? OpenVPN provides remote workers access to the network without compromising security or costing a bundle.

Michael Hall

Amy Newman

Regular movie-goers know a small trick about movie reviews: The fewer a film has on opening night, the more likely it's a bad one. They know the studio didn't do any prescreenings for reviewers for fear of box-office-chilling buzz. Does it work? Who knows? The publicists seem to think so.

The inverse public relations trick involves telling a bit too much ahead of an event, so when the audience sits through the actual press event, it doesn't have its hopes up: It knows what's coming, and it will not be disappointed because it's been told what to expect.

So when publications began "leaking" information that would be officially revealed at Sun's OpenSolaris press conference but that they'd learned in prebriefings several days earlier, we were pretty sure Scott McNealy wouldn't be running on stage and tossing fistfuls of OpenSolaris DVDs at a press corps so enraptured that reporters would throw their shirts on stage and yell "Open more source! Open more source!" It might seem strange for an organization to steal a little of its own thunder, but the publicists seem to think it works for them.

Sun met our lowered expectations on Tuesday, revealing not the source to Solaris, but a new Web site and the source for a single application: The admirable DTrace.

Sun is giving away the source to an operating system it hopes will help carry it back to greatness. It's also opening 1,600 patents related to Solaris for developers to use, and that's not a trivial gift in the current IP environment.

The company framed the DTrace release as a token of its earnestness, proof of its intent to make good on its promise to open the rest of Solaris as soon as it completes the process of scrubbing the source for remaining intellectual property concerns and inserting copyright notifications. We downloaded a copy of DTrace's source before making our way to the brand new Solaris Forums and learning there's no way to even build the software. It's simply there because, well, it's source code and Sun wanted us to have it.

There's no broader metaphor there, though. When we tell you to keep your shirt on and not throw it at Mr. McNealy the next time he's on stage and actually has those OpenSolaris DVDs to throw back at you, it's not because we think Sun's perpetrating a spotlight-grabbing, Red-Hat-poking, GPL-ignoring fraud. It isn't. It's giving away the source to an operating system it hopes will help carry it back to greatness. It's also opening 1,600 patents related to Solaris for developers to use, and that's not a trivial gift in the current IP environment.

But for as much as Sun hopes a community will form around OpenSolaris, and for as much as it hopes OpenSolaris will build buzz, attract the curious, and perhaps even begin to inspire loyalty among a new user base, the company also understands that none of this will happen overnight. You don't just open the source and step out of the way as an army of developers pour through the doors and begin to make everything better and faster. Sun knows this from its experience with OpenOffice.

The real test of the company's commitment will come over time, as it accretes that developer community (if it does) and interacts with people besides its own employees. And the real test of whether Sun's open source gambit has paid off will come over years, not months.

In Other News

» Sun's competitors and others in the tech space are weighing in on its plans for OpenSolaris. Opinion is mixed.

» IBM grew its Linux family Monday with the delivery of a little brother for the 4-way OpenPower 720. The OpenPower 710 is a 1- to 2-processor, 2U 64-bit rack system driven by a 1.65 GHz Power5 microprocessor. A 1-way machine starts at $3,449; a 2-way is priced from $3,999. Virtualization capabilities will run another $1,500.

» Tech companies in the Beaverton, Ore. area will have a new sandbox to play in when the OSDL-backed Open Technology Business Center (OTBC) opens its doors on Feb. 1. The $1.2 million project will serve as an incubator for fledgling businesses that want to use open source technology to create their own offerings. To use the center, entrepreneurs must submit an executive summary, have a fundable product idea and prior start-up experience, and meet various other criteria.

» Java app software developer Jcorporate revved its open source Expresso Framework to version 5.6. The release adds a number of Apache open source products to the mix. Changes include Struts Validator integration, Velocity support, and integration with Apache's Maven.

» This week's Hardware Today looks at how the Linux server landscape evolved in 2004, with a special focus on Penguin Computing and IBM.

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