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Sun Stirs Up Open Source Projects

By Michael Singer (Send Email)
Posted Jan 20, 2005


Sun Microsystems is close to unwrapping its Solaris operating system and other projects as a gift to the open source community. As the company prepares to release Solaris code, it is also mulling a modified Apache license for Jini.

As previously reported, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based systems vendor is expected to submit the Solaris code base this month under its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) — a modified Mozilla open source license recently approved by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Although a spokeswoman for the company declined to comment on when Sun would make the official announcement, the company has scheduled a teleconference next week with John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice president of software, for an update on the company's Solaris open source initiative.

While Sun's decision to release Solaris code into the wild is generally viewed as a positive step toward interoperability in the data center, the event is expected to cause a ripple effect within the open source community, especially with enterprise Linux developers.

"Sun's relationship with the open source community is an intriguing illustration of the difficulty larger enterprises have in courting open source favor," Stephen O'Grady, a senior analyst with IT consultancy RedMonk, told internetnews.com.

"Despite the firm's significant contributions to the community, they just can't seem to win over some of the louder voices," he added. "While the Microsoft [litigation settlement]agreement didn't help them in that regard, there also seems to be some angst over the impending open sourcing of Solaris, given that it will be competing in many areas with the most visible open source project, Linux."

Some analysts said an open source Solaris could impact Red Hat, although it's too soon to say for certain.

"It's very difficult, if not impossible, to handicap the chances of any open source project, as there are too many variables involved to predict anything accurately," O'Grady said. "In the short term, traction will be minimal, particularly when compared against something like Linux. But as more developers, at Fortune-100-class shops on down, are exposed to it, particularly some of the bells and whistles like DTrace, the growth in interest will be slow but steady."

The Jini Factor

An open sourced Solaris is just one piece of Sun's disruptive master plan.

On discussion boards circulating at Opensource.org and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), Sun's Jini curator Bob Scheifler said Sun is looking for an existing, commonly used and accepted open source license to use for a re-licensing effort for Jini — both specifications and code base. Currently, Jini is licensed under Sun's Community Source License (SCSL). Other Sun software licensed under SCSL include J2EE and J2ME, two Sun products the company has been reportedly reviewing for optimal conditions to submit to the open source community.

A Sun spokeswoman confirmed the e-mail and said Sun and other Jini community members expect to reach a decision and, if appropriate, move forward with an open source licensing transition in the coming months.

Jini helps create distributed computing systems, allowing users to access the power and features of any device on the network. It would free the desktop computer from holding all the memory, storage, and processing power it needs for any job. For example, if a disk drive on a network had Jini capabilities, any computer on that network could use the drive as though it were its own. Because Jini has the potential to make operating systems incidental to the power of networks, some have seen Jini as an attempt to reduce the influence of Windows.

"In the relicensing effort that we [Sun] are currently undertaking for Jini technology — specifications and code — our number-one requirement is to use an existing, commonly used and accepted open source license," Bob Scheifler, Sun Distinguished Engineer and architect in the Jini Group, wrote on a recent bulletin board posting.

Scheifler said Sun is considering the Apache License, version 2.0, as a prime contender. Implementations of the spec are a different matter to be worked out.

"With each technology Sun believes there are different business models associated with internal deployment and commercial use of the technology," Stacey Quandt, a senior business analyst with IT Infrastructure research firm Robert Frances Group, told internetnews.com. "Some models include royalties and/or trademark fees at these levels."

OSI Board member Russell Nelson told internetnews.com he was not surprised by the news. "If they release it under the CDDL, then it will definitely be open source software, but they don't have to talk to us [OSI] first," he said.

"It's not what Sun technologies go open source. It's whether or not Sun can convert its open source efforts into meaningful, sustained hardware and/or service revenues," Michael Dortch, a principal business analyst with IT Infrastructure research firm Robert Frances Group told internetnews.com. "Not even $7 billion in the bank guarantees that Sun will be able to continue research and development of technologies developers will support and for which IT executives will want to pay. Sun needs to demonstrate all the links of its apparent value chain are solid and connected, to regain and maintain its status as a first-tier supplier of enterprise-class technologies and solutions."

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

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