How many cards Sun is keeping up its sleeve for the rest of this week’s JavaOne developer conference is anybody’s guess. Day zero was presented as a pre-show community day with its own keynote address, during which the company’s executive VP of software Rich Green announced a newly packaged version of the OpenSolaris operating system.
Amid much debate over the commercial end of open-source technology and the potential for ‘closed code extensions’ for customers that are prepared to pay for them, Sun is no doubt releasing this open-source version of Solaris with an eye on the development community’s ability to produce applications that run within the realms of its own software and hardware systems.
Propagating the ‘adoption-led’ model of software distribution described by chief open-source officer at Sun Microsystems UK, Simon Phipps, this announcement brings together many of Sun’s recent efforts to foster a more vibrant developer community. In his address, Green explained that this news is, “Not just about the operating system - although that is certainly the centre of gravity that builds the mass from which we can extend outward from – it is now all about the incremental value that individuals bring to the total development effort in the open-source arena.”
In a later Q&A session Green explained that Sun views this release as something far beyond a test-bed scenario insisting that the software will now experience rapid development in the adoption-led model. Joined by Debian ‘inventor’ Ian Murdoch who now fills the role of Sun’s VP developer & community marketing, the pair explained that essentially OpenSolaris is out there as open-source, but it has the backing of Sun as a company behind it to provide support when needed. In Murdoch’s own words, "When you need help scaling, that's when we make our money."
Sun’s official statement describes this announcement as the result of its community having taken a fresh look at OpenSolaris over the last year and adapting the best parts of the other open-source distribution models into the operating system. According to Sun, “The most significant improvement is a new installation and packaging technology that evolves the operating system into a structured set of components. The new distribution includes a small core operating system, a network package repository, application packages and the Sun-developed Image Packaging System (IPS) to hold it all together. IPS lets users easily download and install only the OpenSolaris components they want, rather than a monolithic bundle.”
Questioned as to whether OpenSolaris is now enterprise ready, Green responded by trying to draw a new line of distinction for gauging and measuring corporate technology deployment, “There is no longer a firm line between enterprise grade and non-enterprise grade technology. Facebook enjoys many enterprise-level deployments, yet may not be outwardly perceived as inherently enterprise level.”
Solaris 10 will still exist alongside the opensolaris.org community, as Sun says some customers will want what is arguably a more fully supported and tested version of the product - while others will be open to the wider possibilities at the cutting edge of open-source. Putting some extra weight behind the move to open-source, Sun has also specified that future versions of Solaris will be based upon technology from the OpenSolaris project.
Bringing some extra balance to the debate over the future for commercially developed versus organically grown open-source technologies, the morning’s opening address featured a number of guest panel speakers. Among these was Jeremy Allison, lead developer for the Samba open-source free software suite at Google who said that, “Samba is just a bunch of guys and we've never tried to go down the commercial route. But if we had done I don't think that would have broken the model. The problem occurs when companies try and capture and enclose a [open-source] project. However, due to legal issues that I don't want to go in to, we absolutely refuse to allow corporate contributions into our code base,” he said.
Live Twitter questions or ‘tweets’ posed to the presenters during this morning’s opening address featured some distrust among the audience for company-controlled open-source projects. With many attendees seemingly sceptical that this may be an inevitable slide back towards the Microsoft model, Sun today is insistent that it is firmly routed in the move from so-called ‘monolithic to modular’ software development and that this represents its open-source dream.