Sun Pushes Ahead With 'Quasi-Open' Plans

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday reiterated plans to offer Solaris under its Community Source License.

Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday reiterated plans to offer Solaris under its Community Source License.

Sun is offering no timetable for when it will move Solaris into quasi-open source. Nor is the company apologizing to open-source advocates who have pointed out since February that Sun's Community Source license violates a number of open-source licensing principles.

Sun has a lot on its licensing plate. Currently, Sun offers code for Jini, the Java 2 SDK, Personal and Embedded Java, and the picoJava and SparcV8 microprocessor cores under Community Source. Before it can make Solaris available under a similar license, it must negotiate agreements for the intellectual property inside Solaris that it does not own.

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.

Biz Model Challenges

The growth of the open-source movement is putting increasing pressure on traditional vendors, which must figure out how to harness the movement's energy while protecting their bottom lines.

As open-source software moves up the food chain-from operating systems to tools to applications and middleware-it threatens to dry up product margins, forcing vendors to find new sources of revenue and disrupting traditional channels of distribution.

The latest company to wrestle with this dilemma is IBM, earlier this week began offering some of its own technology to developers under an IBM Public License approved by the Open Source Initiative. IBM spent months working with Open Source guru Eric Raymond, changing its license to secure the approval, and so far is offering a Java compiler and some Java Unicode classes.

But IBM has other irons in the fire. Cosource.com, a two-month-old start-up that aggregates buyers and developers of open-source software, is in talks with IBM's RS/6000 division about getting Linux apps developed for the PowerPC. Cosource.com also is in talks with Intel about apps for the IA-64 platform; with Lineo about apps for embedded Linux; with Be about the BeOS; and with Applix, which has exposed the framework of its ApplixWare productivity suite.

Cosource.com president Bernie Thompson says Microsoft should take note. "Open source can be done on Windows. You could do open-source Exchange applications or Excel templates-Microsoft is the leader in offering well-documented APIs."

Cosource.com is one of several start-ups that have attracted venture capital in the last few months. Hewlett-Packard is sponsoring SourceXchange, a Cosource.-com competitor and the first service offered by Collab.Net, funded in August by Benchmark Capital.

"Over the last couple of years, the industry has changed from looking like the industrial era of offering hard goods to offering services," says Brian Behlendorf, who is president of the Apache Software Foundation and cofounded Collab.net with O'Reilly & Associates in July. "When you're supporting and maintaining services, it doesn't matter where the ones and zeros that support the software came from."

HP also is in discussions with BeOpen.com, a start-up portal that courts both platform vendors and tech partners, such as Collab.net. BeOpen.com proposes to build services around open-source projects that could be built on technology such as HP's E-speak.

"It's business economics that are driving this," says BeOpen co-founder Randy Finfrock. "Companies can't match the speed, quality, overhead and distribution of the open-source model." Trouble Ahead

So far, Sun is continuing to go its own way. Sun has invited Behlendorf and Mozilla manager Mitchell Baker to speak at a community forum on its Jini technology this month, but refuses to change the Sun Community Source License agreement to accommodate critics. Attendees must sign the license, which Sun manager Danese Cooper describes as "complicated and long."

Cooper says many large companies are uncomfortable with open source and that Sun must protect the Java brand for the sake of its shareholders.

"Open source is not one community. We try to keep an open dialog going, but partly it's our experience that their understanding of our license is imperfect," Cooper says. "Our whole value proposition is ensuring compatibility of Java and Jini, and that flies in the face of the open-source right to fork the code base as needed, which means they take it in a different direction. I've had [talks] with Eric Raymond about this, and it's understood that this is the central issue."

Some open-source companies predict trouble for Sun, which still is struggling to maintain control of Java in the embedded market. Cygnus Solutions--which has moved to unify Linux so applications can run across the desktop, embedded Linux and its own Ecos embedded operating system-believes Sun doesn't get it.

"Software gets better when more people have the opportunity to improve it," says Cygnus founder Michael Tiemann. But Cooper claims Sun has received many inquiries from companies that share its desire to take advantage of the open-source movement while protecting its intellectual property.

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