In wake of Solaris' renaissance, predictions of its death were obviously premature

Summary:Despite predictions of its demise, Unix -- and in particular, Sun's Solaris flavor -- appears to be convalescing instead of following the downward spiral that's typical for operating systems that fall from grace (the PalmOS for example).  In June 2004, after Open Source Initiative president Eric Raymond penned an open letter asking Sun to open source Java, I asked Raymond if he was thinking about penning a similar letter to Sun about Solaris.

Despite predictions of its demise, Unix -- and in particular, Sun's Solaris flavor -- appears to be convalescing instead of following the downward spiral that's typical for operating systems that fall from grace (the PalmOS for example).  In June 2004, after Open Source Initiative president Eric Raymond penned an open letter asking Sun to open source Java, I asked Raymond if he was thinking about penning a similar letter to Sun about Solaris.  At that time, OpenSolaris -- the open source version of Solaris -- did not exist.  Raymond replied "Who the hell cares about Solaris? On current trends, Linux is going to crush it like a grape within three years."

Although Solaris still has a little less than two years left to fullfill that prediction, the operating system isn't exactly looking like a grape under the heel of Linux.  Instead of losing OEM support, Solaris is gaining it and in one case, from a very unlikely partner (even more evidence that this OS has roots that won't be so easy to unearth).  In the last 30 days, Sun has scored two major OEM blade deals.  Last month, Big Blue announced it would be supporting Solaris on in its x86-based BladeCenter offering.  Then, earlier today, a second OEM endorsement of Solaris was announced by boutique blade solution provider Egenera.  According to InfoWorld, the company has announced support for Solaris in its BladeFrame solution. 

The turn of events of Solaris, particularly in the same year that arch *ix nemesis IBM was treating Solaris like the plague, is perhaps more indicative of a renaissance than it is of any pending extinction for the operating system.  It was just January of this year when Sun president and COO Jonathan Schwartz used to blog to challenge IBM with an open letter requesting that the company port its software to Solaris. One month later, Big Blue was showing no signs of capitulating.  In February, in response to a question about whether IBM would support Solaris with its chiphopping technology, IBM's worldwide Linux chief Scott Handy told me the following:

Now your asking 'Is there room for a third [OS to support on x86]?', and the answer is no. Sun has 1 percent of the x86 market….. But we've also said we'll look at [porting our apps to Solaris]. We do these things when the customers demand it and the opportunity is sufficient…..Let's not discount the fact that we're competitors. We're talking about the same customers. We're very confident that those customers will move to Linux on x86 and Sun is trying to talk them into something else.

Then, in May, in a move that Sun characterized as an act of desperation, but that attempted to put IBM in position to eat Solaris' lunch, IBM announced a "pre-funded" Solaris-to-Linux migration initiative.  In an escalation of the rhetoric between the two compaies, Sun's director of operating system marketing Chris Ratcliffe told me:

IBM's attack smacks of desperation, an attempt to create a fog screen around the momentum behind Solaris 10.  In light of the advantages of Solaris 10 over Red Hat, such as superior performance, security, indemnification, we're seeing enterprises like J.P. Morgan migrating to Solaris — not the other way around.

Then, one month latter, in an about face that may have indicated that Sun was right and that Handy's "customers were demanding it" and "the opportunity was looking sufficient," as a part of larger announcement that it was renewing its Java license, IBM also announced that it would port it's Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE)-based application server to Solaris.  Surpisingly, Sun's Schwartz didn't use his blog to gloat.  Given the freshly minted detente between the two companies, silence was probably golden.  Especially when an 800 lb gorilla decides to share his bananas with you.  In an uncharacteristically dull-tongued entry on his blog, Schwartz did however take the opportunity to comment. Without any vitriolic "I told you so's" or "Whose your Daddy's,"  Schwartz wrote:

And if you ever wanted proof that volume drives value, I'm pleased to announce we've signed up our first tier 1 systems vendor as a Solaris supporter: it's IBM, and their decision to provide comprehensive support for Solaris on Bladecenter definitely puts them ahead of the other blade vendors in offering a truly OS neutral product.

Meanwhile, in other Solaris signs of revival, the operating system earned some major buzz this week when  former Sun-bedpal Oracle pledged to make Solaris 10 the preferred OS for Oracle's 64 bit offerings.  Relations between Sun and Oracle -- two companies that were once like peanut butter and jelly -- have chilled over recent years.  In response, Sun's Schwartz penned his shortest blog entry ever.  All it said was "Thanks, Larry. Very much appreciated."  Then, today, Sun made not one but three Solaris-related announcements. First, that it would be incorporating the open source-based PostgreSQL database into Solaris.  Second, that was releasing its 128-bit Solaris ZFS operating system as open source.  And third that it would also be adding the open source-based Xen virtual machine software to OpenSolaris next year.  By way of Tim Bray, Sun's Bryan Cantrill has the gory details on the significance of the ZFS announcements.

Sorry Eric.  This operating system is definitely not looking like any about-to-be-crushed grape that I know of.

Topics: Operating Systems

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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