Sun sheds light on open source Solaris

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Sun Microsystems' top software executive shed new light on Sun's plans to open-source its Solaris operating system, but the vendor's ultimate strategy to release the source code for its proprietary Unix-based OS remains far from clear.

John Loiacono, Sun's executive vice president of software, told CRN at the JavaOne 2004 conference said that he was 'not opposed to' giving away the entire source code for Solaris in lieu of making customers pay for extras such as fees for maintenance, support and software updates.

'If a customer today is buying a product from us currently referred to as Solaris -- in this case Solaris 9 or Solaris 10, which is about to ship -- if I buy that from Sun today I want mission-critical support, I want the Q/A test cycle, I want [Sun] to do all the rigor [it does] today,' Loiacono said.

When Sun does open-source Solaris, a plan the company plans to discuss in detail later this year, all of the services Sun provides for the Solaris OS now 'will change zero,' he said.

This scenario suggests that Sun is pondering an open-source version of Solaris similar to how Red Hat offers its Linux distribution -- the operating system itself is free and available for use, but customers cannot buy Red Hat's particular version without purchasing maintenance and support for it.

Sun continues to have concerns about open-sourcing Java because the platform could lose the compatibility that has made it so successful, but Loiacono said executives are not worried about that happening with Solaris.

'I'm worried about forking in Java because there's a bunch of people sitting on the sidelines willing to take that stuff and run with it and break the compatibility,' Loiacono said.

'Am I worried about people taking a 20-year established product in the case of Solaris, or 10 years with this modern platform, taking it and forking it and running with it? You know what, if tomorrow, you downloaded [Solaris], and took it and said, 'I'm going to innovate with it and try to compete with you in your space in the Solaris community,' I'd say have it.'

Sun President and COO Jonathan Schwartz first said that Sun plans to open source Solaris at a Sun conference in Shanghai earlier this month.

Sun also is planning other creative ways to distribute its products, including more subscription-based pricing as well as auctions to sell those subscriptions of software and hardware bundles, Loiacono said. Sun first began pricing software at yearly subscription rates when it shipped its Java Enterprise System (JES) and Java Desktop System (JDS) bundles last year.

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