In June 2005, Sun Microsystems released core elements of its
flagship Solaris operating system as open source software, making
public more than five million lines of code. The announcement sparked intense interest among developers. But, one year on, are the structures governing the OpenSolaris project fully in place and has the community embraced the offering?
Evidence on the latter front is promising, with Sun's own statistics showing OpenSolaris could already be one of the world's largest open source projects. Since June last year, more than 13,600 people have signed up
to be involved in the development of OpenSolaris through the project's Web site,
according to Sun's Australia and New Zealand Solaris product manager
Of that number, Eagleton told ZDNet Australia in a recent
telephone interview, just 1,400 were Sun employees.
While interest is high, the governance framework within which the project operates is still in development. Project leaders have signed off on a charter document broadly
defining its structure, and a community advisory board of both Sun employees and external interested parties has been appointed. A more detailed constitution is also in the works.
"That's being worked on right now -- the community's all
working on the constitution," said Eagleton, adding he thought
the document would deal with any governance issues associated with
In addition, Sun is yet to release some aspects of Solaris as open source software, although that process is due for completion by the year's end.
Meanwhile, non-Sun programmers have to date offered some 165 code contributions
to the OpenSolaris project, said Eagleton. Of those, 70 have been accepted into the project's
code base, while another 95 are still in the review process.
To allay early community concerns that the process of getting external code contributions accepted was taking
too long, Sun has a temporary buddy system whereby external contributors are partnered with Sun employees.
"Over time we'll transfer those skills back out to the wider
community and there won't be a need for it, but to get it
happening, and happening quickly, we're kind of buddying that
up," said Eagleton.
Eagleton is confident his
company's initial moves have done much to increase developer interest in
"It was an accelerant -- like pouring kerosene on a fire," he
said. "The level of interaction and discussion, and the level of
innovation around Solaris has really taken off."
As an example, Eagleton cited recent cooperation between Sun
and the wider programmer community that occurred at the
LinuxWorld Australia conference.
Sun kernel engineer Alan Hargreaves collaborated with Andrew
Tridgell on a Solaris-oriented bug fix for the popular Samba file
sharing and printing suite.
"I could see these guys together on the stand, just working
feverishly and really excitedly getting a lot out of working
together," said Eagleton. "And that excitement's the type of thing that from the
developers wouldn't have happened previous to us being able to
open source Solaris."
The external view
United Kingdom-based systems administer Peter Tribble,
who has been involved with OpenSolaris as an external
contributor, said he had found Sun's open source move
"It's not just the code, although being able to see exactly
what the source is doing can be very helpful when analysing a
problem," he told ZDNet Australia via e-mail last week. "The really big thing is the community that allows direct interaction with the Sun engineers who designed and wrote the
software we use."
Tribble said Solaris' new open nature meant system administrators like him
could help guide the development of the operating system they
As a code contributor, Tribble said it was very easy to get
contributions accepted into the OpenSolaris code base, "provided
you're patient". "The sponsor [or buddy] system is essential from a procedural
point of view," he said.
"External contributors don't have the ability to directly
update the master source at all, as that's still hosted inside
Sun. One way of looking at this is that, for simple cases, we work
on the code, and the sponsor does the paperwork."
Tribble said there were a number of bite-sized bugs that new
contributors could cut their teeth on, as a way to learn the
"In more complex cases, the sponsor will offer coding
suggestions, arrange code review, arrange for any tests that need
to be run, and where there are changes to the way the code works,
manage the ARC review [architectural review] process. All the
time acting as a liaison with us contributors," he said.
"It works very well, although it must be a lot of work for
the sponsors," Tribble continued.
Overall, Tribble said although he wasn't familiar with the
management of other open source projects, he was of the opinion
that OpenSolaris was being managed well.
"Certainly, when it was first mooted, many of us were worried
that Solaris' traditional values of stability, compatibility, and
correctness would be compromised, and that hasn't happened," he
"The transition into the open source world has continued
steadily, but safely."
"There isn't really much of a management structure, at least
not that I can see," he added. "Clearly Sun has huge input -- but that's only right, as it's
their code to start with, and they're putting in most of the
resources at the moment -- so we're not really self-governing
"The project has -- in my view anyway -- been extremely successful in keeping to the original Solaris ethos while developing a strong OpenSolaris community."