Following Oracle's decision to end open distribution of source codes for its Solaris enterprise operating system, the company now faces backlash from the open-source community which is likely to damage its relationship with developers in the long-run, industry watchers noted.
Oracle's decision to take the "open" out of OpenSolaris has drawn the ire of the open-source community. (Fail stamp image by Hans Gerwitz, CC BY-SA 2.0)
The software giant revealed in a leaked internal memo last week that it intended to end open-source developers' daily access to builds of Solaris binaries — after version 2010.05 — which it inherited from its Sun Microsystems acquisition, approved in January this year. Instead, the company is focusing its developer efforts on bringing to market its proprietary Solaris 11 platform and will only distribute an open-source version of the OS after its official launch.
Commenting on Oracle's decision, senior Ovum analyst Laurent Lachal said emotions within the open-source camp are "running very high" currently and the IT giant is likely to face backlash from people with strong open-source convictions.
He noted in his email that every large software company needs to have a "proactive open-source strategy", and this includes nurturing the goodwill of various communities that make up the open-source movement.
Lachal explained: "Based on Oracle's latest moves, regardless of its legal validity, it will be difficult for Oracle to get that goodwill, especially for the other open-source projects it is in charge of such as MySQL and OpenOffice. There may come a time when Oracle will wish it had spent more efforts making friends in the open-source community."
His views were echoed by Michael Meeks, a Novell developer who had also contributed to the OpenOffice project.
Meeks told ZDNet Asia in his email that Oracle's decision to end open distribution of Solaris OS sets a bad precedent and entrenches a "throw-it-over-the-wall approach" to open source, whereby the development work is done internally and only opened up to public later.
"It is highly unclear whether [this approach] of using a thin veneer of 'openness' for marketing reasons [while] losing the joy, dynamism, pluralism and, critically, the cost-sharing of true open development, is a good business model. I am unsure why anyone would want to do that," he said.
Oracle did not respond to ZDNet Asia at the time of writing.
Original writers put on restricted access
Steven Stallion, the OpenSolaris engineer who posted the leaked memo on his blog, said Oracle's decision to shutter the project is a "terrible send-off" for those involved in developing the software. He added that the software will now ship as an Oracle product that "the original authors" can no longer obtain on an unrestricted basis.
"I can only maintain that the software we worked on was for the betterment of all, not for any one company's bottom line. This is truly a perversion of the open-source spirit," Stallion noted in his blog post.
The OpenSolaris board in July had threatened to quit to show its frustration over the lack of communication from Oracle regarding the project's future directions.
Even before shuttering OpenSolaris, Oracle had open-source proponents up in arms when it decided to sue Google for its Android mobile OS infringing on the company's Java patents, according to reports. The company issued a statement last week saying the search giant had "knowingly, directly and repeatedly infringed Oracle's Java-related intellectual property".
Google, in turn, issued the following response: "We are disappointed Oracle has chosen to attack both Google and the open-source Java community with this baseless lawsuit. The open-source Java community goes beyond any one corporation and works every day to make the web a better place. We will strongly defend open-source standards and will continue to work with the industry to develop the Android platform."
Open-source movement still healthy
Despite the backlash, Ovum's Lachal noted that Oracle's decision is not as unfathomable as Meeks had implied. The analyst said the IT vendor is "entitled" to keep OpenSolaris closer to its chest but the question of whether it will gain or lose in doing so, is "not so clear-cut".
Lachal said Oracle might still profit with its decision if it makes efforts to keep its customers happy to continue buying Solaris software. "If the price as well as terms and conditions are right, Oracle stands a good chance to expand Solaris within its customer base," he added.
That said, the analyst noted another consequence from the shuttering of OpenSolaris is the hastened migration of Unix customers to Linux-based systems. He said Linux will replace all Unix-based platforms, Solaris included, and the end of open distributions will encourage enterprise users and third-party vendors to make the transition earlier.
Novell's Meeks said the demise of OpenSolaris will pass by "largely unnoticed" within the open-source community, noting that the software had gained "relatively little traction" within the developer and user community, outside of shops that were already Solaris users.
He was also keen to draw a distinction between the shuttering of OpenSolaris and the overall open-source movement.
"Perhaps a danger is that people will attribute OpenSolaris' failure not to the closed and proprietary ownership and development practices, but to some intrinsic problem with open-source software," he observed. However, Meeks added that the "existence and exuberant growth" of the rest of the GNU-Linux stack "belies that".