It's not quite open-source software, but developers are about to get access to Solaris without paying for it. Indeed, Sun Microsystems Inc. plans to put all its platform software -including Solaris- under a Community Source License, the company said this week. The license is likely to cover any Sun software that is not specific to end users or vertical markets.
Community Source is a quasi-open source license that Sun announced in December for Jini, Java and its Java Workshop development tool. In a reversal of its previous practice, Sun will not collect money from developers until they ship binary products based on Sun source code.
Community Source is currently a tri-level license that allows developers to license and download source code with the click of a mouse. Those using source code for research and development must return bug fixes to Sun and publish source for others. Those deploying binaries internally also must pass Sun's compatibility tests and publish specifications. And those shipping binaries commercially must pay fees to Sun, adhere to Sun's upgrade schedules and return any changes to other licensees.
Sun has not set a date for converting its platform products to Community Source, but product groups inside Sun are supposed to be adhering to the model now, unless they can provide good business or strategic reasons for not doing so, says Sun VP Jim Mitchell. Sun has delayed announcing Solaris because it does not own all of Solaris's intellectual property and is working through those issues.
However, Sun did come to agreements with IBM Corp. and other companies that contributed source code to Java. "Those companies were playing the community source game already," Mitchell says. "When you license Jini and return changes, you're not giving them to Sun, you're giving them to the Jini community. Sun has no special rights to them that I'm aware of. The real value of open source is that innovation springs up all around. Programmers have a very natural tendency to make things better for the whole community, and we want to tap into that."
Sun hopes Community Source will boost Solaris licenses, much in the way that the open-source community has made Linux a hit. But so far, Community Source has not been universally embraced. Java developers say Sun has not yet gone far enough, and Jini developers are currently debating what they see as shortcomings in Sun's licensing scheme.
Mitchell concedes that Sun has not spent enough time educating people. He also concedes that Sun's Jini license-the only Community Source license available so far-is too long. He says that while Sun assumes the basic framework of Community Source is set, the company will allow "a lot of latitude with fine-grain details." Each product group designs a license appropriate for its own product.
Community Source is forcing Sun to grapple with several tough issues. The company is considering opening Sun Workshop, its new 64-bit Solaris development tool, but group marketing manager Jon Williams points out that would also expose the guts of Sun's SPARC architecture. "It raises the question, what are our crown jewels?" Williams says.