Users welcome but ponder Opensolaris entrance

Sun Microsystems' move to release the source code of its Solaris Unix platform in the public domain is welcomed by existing users but they question the impact Opensolaris will have on Sun's overall business interests.

Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine IT strategy and security leader Gavin Reichel believes open sourcing Solaris is a bold move by Sun and a sign that it is trying to compete with Linux.

"Solaris is an excellent product for reliable Unix environments, but has generally lacked the bells and whistles that Linux has offered," Reichel said.

"I imagine that this move may improve Solaris' exposure to the wider community and improve Sun's install base."

Reichel questioned how an Opensolaris will help Sun sell its Sparc-based hardware, labelling it "a bit of a mystery".

"And with their flagship OS moving to Intel platforms - what will become of Sparc server hardware?" he said.

"Sun might be shooting itself in the foot [as] it has always been compelling to run Solaris on Sparc."

Opensolaris is likely to facilitate Sparc to Intel migrations for organizations the size of the Institute, Reichel said.

"Sparc hardware, although very reliable, has always come at a significant premium over Intel," he said.

"Now that Solaris has a strong, and hopefully as reliable, on Intel [offering], there seems to be little reason to continue to purchase Sun hardware. Larger IT shops with higher processing requirements will probably still buy Sparc."

That said, Reichel believes Sun does provide excellent hardware service management and as such its cheaper Intel offerings will still remain attractive. Furthermore, Opensolaris is likely to be chosen over Linux for Intel at the Institute, because of strong experience with it, he said.

Western Australia-based building company BGC's IT director, Andrew Buckeridge, said Opensolairs "can only make Solaris better", so the company is more likely to continue using it.

However, Buckeridge, like Reichel, believes Opensolaris will drive Sparc to x86 migrations and "the secret's now out that Sun is not that interested in Sparc".

However, whether Opensolaris is likely to be chosen over Linux, Buckeridge responded with a resounding "no".

"Although Solaris has a much better threads, most applications don't use threads or do it in such a way that they will work with Linux," he said. "Linux is better for applications like Internet gateways."

Sun Microsystems' Australia and New Zealand Solaris product manager, James Eagleton, said the uptake of Linux was driven by people wanting an operating system with Unix-like features at a low cost-point.

"Solaris is back there," he said. "The right to use Solaris is free and there are three levels of support around it."

The Opensolaris code will be made public under the OSI-approved Common Development and Distribution Licence (CDDL) which doesn't allow the code to be 'forked' to create different distributions.

"It allows changes to the source code but if we saw Solaris split up into multiple distributions it risks application availability," he said. "This has been a strength of Java."

The Institute's Reichel said the inability for Opensolaris to branch out into separate distributions is good and will prevent Linux-like fragmentation.

Buckeridge disagrees, saying "without Debian GNU/kSolaris or similar I will not be using it over GNU/Linux".

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