What's wrong at OpenSolaris

What's wrong at OpenSolaris

Summary: What's wrong with Sun's "project Indiana" beyond the authoritarian way it was pushed through? Basicaly, I see making Solaris more Linux-like as dragging Solaris down market when the same effort could have made a far more positive contribution by helping drag Linux up.


The OpenSolaris community just released the first complete "Project Indiana" edition of the OS - and in that process demonstrated why community enthusiasm for the product seems to have weakened recently.

It's a great product -everything from ZFS to a new package management system modeled on the blastwave process - and well worth examining carefully.

So why do I think there's a problem? As part of the release Sun offers to send anyone who requests it a free bootable CD - here's part of the headline bit for that page:

OpenSolaris 2008.05 for x86 is available to use free of charge and we can send you a CD at no extra cost. The delivery time may vary depending on your location, so you should consider downloading the CD image if you have a fast Internet connection.

The OpenSolaris 2008.05 Live CD makes it simple to boot to a fully functional desktop environment, including Firefox and Thunderbird, without the need to install onto your system. After familiarizing yourself with the OpenSolaris environment, you can then choose to install it onto your disk. Once installed, you can connect to the OpenSolaris Package Repository to install additional software at OpenOffice.org

Support for SPARC hardware is unavailable at this time.

Notice that? No SPARC support: on an OS product backed by Sun.

And beyond that, what does the curious but uncommitted user see here? an illogical "extra" in the first paragraph and a sloppy mistake in the second - the package repository isn't on the OpenOffice site, they're trying to cite an example of what's available.

Why did this happen? I think it happened for the same reason that companies like Red Hat, IBM, and Microsoft have been having a wonderful time spreading FUD about the CDDL and the inevitability of some future switch to GPL3: Ian Murdock.

By all reports he's a great guy with an outstanding record of achievement, but it seems to me that trying to turn OpenSolaris into Debian II stands the entire Solaris community ethos on its head, introduces a desktop/x86 hobbyist focus into what should be an enterprise grade effort, and indirectly ratifies the beliefs of those who don't see Sun as serious about OpenSolaris - thereby playing into the hands of those who want dismiss OpenSolaris as a Linux competitor that's bound to fail.

The primary argument I hear in favor of what he's doing is a simple one: "the numbers" say his supporters, "favor x86" - it's what the customer wants, it's where the demand is, and it's where Solaris needs to be. The second version of this that I hear fairly often is similar: "developers", these people say, "want this."

My problem is that I don't believe either version. On the contrary I would argue that computing jobs which can be done on x86, can be done using Linux, OpenBSD, or MacOS X - and what that means is that you can use Solaris for those same jobs, but making it possible confuses the market and actually doing it is a lot like hanging a 24" lawnmower under a V8: possible, but a recipe for injury, error, and bad press likely to mitigate strongly against Solaris adoption where it really counts: on SPARC and PPC.

The developer argument is partially a consequence of this: of course they say "Yes" when asked if they want easier, cheaper, more Linux like, access to Solaris; but when sales push meets support costs an x86 customer who doesn't forcefully demand the Solaris version will get the Linux one - meaning, on net, that lowering the Solaris entry point for x86 developers will attract vociferous developer support while simultaneously making them less likely to actually sell Solaris applications to their customers.

So, bottom line, what? Simple: I think making OpenSolaris seem more Linux like has been a mistake for Sun - a better strategy would have been to focus OpenSolaris development on SPARC and PPC/Cell, support a source compatible x86 version, and commit real resources to bringing Solaris capabilities like dTrace and ZFS to the Linux community. Basically, I see making Solaris more Linux-like as dragging Solaris down market when the same effort could have made a far more positive contribution by helping drag Linux up.

Topics: Servers, Hardware, Linux, Open Source, Operating Systems, Software

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  • Rip SPARC + Solaris (in a few years)

    Sun won't bother with opensolaris on SPARC because
    who is going to spend time (except sun employees)
    developing on declining platform and don't start
    with all this multi core niagra nonsense cos SPARC
    although a good product (like Alpha) is fading.
    IBM's chips are in embedded all over, in gaming consoles
    and outperforming everything else so they seem better placed
    to withstand the 86x64 onslaught in the short term.

    As for Murdoc and and the total lack of OpenSolaris community.
    this is as much a result of suns dithering and cddl nonsense
    approach to open source. no one cares about opensolaris
    in general. Linux has too much momentum and is too powerull
    a kernel for Solaris to get in it's way. Linux has deservedly
    taken a lot of sun's market(thank's Red Hat) on it's own merit
    but Solaris is bland and unexciting. Trying to reinvent
    crusty old UNIX buy trying desperately to look cool
    and contemporary is not the way to go and the way Sun is
    claiming to be all open source in the last 2 years is a
    fascinating case study in a business trying to reinvent
    itself by pretending a little too hard. That is why no one
    really "buys" this OpenSolaris" shlock!

    there is only one great powerful community sun has and that
    is the Java community. That is real and exists and is the reason
    that .Net is less successful.
    • QED (NT)

    • .Net less sucessful than what?

      Maybe I should ask 'Daddy what's Java?". But I do know, that's the annoying virtual machine I took off my computer when it began fixing its bugs by updating every few days. It's also the one that the vast majority of the world's computer users don't have.

      So less sucessful than what?
      • It's official

        tonymcs has removed Java, time to call it dead;-)

        Java in all devices is larger than number than the total
        number of PCs. Perhaps you donned those MS glasses a little
        Richard Flude
      • Mmmmmm

  • RE: What's wrong at OpenSolaris

    I don't really see anything wrong with OpenSolaris. From the start I always thought of it as SUN's bid to expand its business; too many people have been dumping SPARC machines for lower-cost x86-based servers and running (**shudder**) WinDos. Some people have run a mix of Solaris and WinDos and then thought it too hard to support such disparate platforms and consolidated on - you guessed it - WinDos. OpenSolaris is an attempt to win back a user base who will become familiar with Solaris, possibly fall in love, and sign a support agreement with SUN or better still buy some heavy iron from SUN. Make no mistake, this was never to compete with Linux, this move is to not only help keep SUN alive but eventually bring them into competition with Microsoft. The message would be: You can have a serious server plus all your desktop and laptop needs running a single system - the guy who looks after your server can also effortlessly look after your desktop and laptop, and when you're really stuck, come and ask SUN - their support has always made MS support look like the amateur attempt that it is. (But I must admit the support contracts make MS support contracts look like spare change.)

    A friend of mine runs OpenSolaris on x86. He tried a Mac with OSX and tried Linux, but he's happiest with OpenSolaris and runs most of his business apps on that system.

    Porting to multiple CPU families is no simple task; Linux by far supports the most CPUs, but there has been over 10 years of development there. At the moment it really does make sense for SUN to concentrate on x86 and establish its new customer base. They can move to PPC and perhaps others at their leisure. As for Solaris on SPARC - as far as I know that's still supported - buy it from SUN as usual.
    • Agreed as to gaols etc

      However.. look at junknstuff's response above to see how the MS community has chosen to interpret what's going on.

      Now ask yourself: wouldn't everyone - especially Sun - have been better off if Sun had spent the money bringing Linux along instead of spending it selling Solaris into the Linux market?

      oh, and FYI: it's BSD, not Linux, that supports the most diverse hardware base.
      • Who's going to gaol? (NT).

      • No, it doesn't

        Name one architecture or piece of hardware supported by BSD that is not supported by Linux. The "more diverse hardware" myth has been debunked many times.
        Hemlock Stones
        • the iPhone

          • So now we're talking about toys?

          • toy?

            It runs a fully functional bsd kernel more or less on par with the linux kernels in routers, but a bit more complex. Is it the fact that its an Apple phone that makes it a toy? Heh. However, I'm not sure said routers run BSD... and ARM processors can run Linux.
          • Still...

            Google Android's going to run on way more different phone models than the embedded OS X you get on the iPhone.

            It's all a bit of an elaborate pissing contest given that either could be adapted to pretty much any architecture (maybe even including a Zilog Z80A).

            Of course, I've never seen BSD running on an iPod :D
  • There doesn't seem to be much from GNU.

    It hasn't got any C compiler - why not gcc, as even SPARC Solaris gives us gcc nowadays. No emacs. No gnu 'screen'. No autoconf or automake. Presumably this means the familiar ./configure; make; make install would be ruled out. I guess there's going to be another website or URL for getting tools, but if there is, the current website doesn't tell you about it.
    • I don't know

      but I'd be astounded if all of that's not easily available for download.
      • They've got to make this 3 CDs.

        I'm sure you're right, and the missing packages are going to be out there somewhere - an ecosystem will grow up around opensolaris. But its a pain in the ass right now. They've got to make it highly usable from day one. AT LEAST two CDs for the necessary binaries, and a source CD for all the development header files that people will need.
  • RE: What's wrong at OpenSolaris

    hey, Paul ... In these early versions we are focusing on the desktop and making the distro more familiar to more developers. Sparc support is coming, though. And as far as the enterprise is concerned, please don??t forget that future versions of Solaris 10 will be based on OpenSolaris. We had to get strong on x86 and solve basic problems of getting an easy-to-install, lighter weight OpenSolaris distro out there with some new packaging technology. And as far as community building goes, OpenSolaris 2008.05 will significantly increase our footprint around the world -- especially in emerging markets in China and India where we are already growing pretty rapidly (but coming from a small base). We??ve already build a viable source community, but we are still relatively small globally. Now we can scale a bit more to to talk to more users and more types of developers. The distro is the key to that. I??m not saying that we haven??t made a mistake or two along the way, but one thing at a time. :) -- Jim G. http://blogs.sun.com/jimgris/
    • Footprint - Yes; growth - Yes; Value - ?

      I know this is a limited release for limited purposes - but the fundamental goal of making Solaris more Linux like in terms of distribution and community support is, I think, backwards in concept and like to lead to backwards results.

      Specifically, I think the money should have gone to making Linux better rather than making Solaris more competitive for low end uses, and that the current strategy is more likely to lead to wide use of the "personal" release while limiting the growth of large scale commercial applications support for Solaris than it is to do what Sun, and the OpenSolaris community, need: trigger increased large scale commercial Solaris applications support.
    • What I would like to hear from Sun about OpenSolaris.

      If Sun is positioning OpenSolaris along side Linux then I'm not interested in a me too OS. It seem to me that is the message Sun is sending. As a developer what I'm interested in on the server side and as workstation is an OS and related software to empower concurrency. If OpenSolaris can prove useful in respect to concurrency programming that would give it an edge versus Linux and drive more developers to the OS.
  • RE: What's wrong at OpenSolaris

    You can't have an open source, community driven product based on proprietary and expensive hardware. No developer with the time to work on open source efforts has a SPARC tucked away under his bed. But he's probably got a handful of x86 machines. For Sun to make this work and maintain a focus on Enterprise, they would need to turn loose the developers on X86, and fund an internal effort to port everything to SPARC.