Sun ponders offering open-source Solaris

Sun Microsystems is pondering whether or not to offer Solaris code in an open-source format to boost deployment of the operating system on Intel hardware, but questions remain about the effectiveness of open source, a Sun official said this week.

The company is looking at allowing users to access Solaris in an open-source format, noting that the recent early release program for Solaris 9 on the Intel x86 platform has generated about 1.4 million downloads for the US$20 offering, said Jonathan Schwartz, Sun executive vice president for software. Schwartz spoke during an interview Tuesday evening prior to a private Sun-sponsored screening of the film "Solaris" in San Francisco.

"The question is, if we open source it, do we double that?" Schwartz said. "What does it do to the [Solaris] adoption rates?"

However, he maintained that open-source availability of software is not a panacea, because enterprise-level support and scalability needed by many companies is not provided for in open-source products. Schwartz likened open source to getting a free puppy. "It's great the day you get it and then you have to maintain it," he said.

Nonetheless, Sun is looking "really closely" at the possible use of open source to grow the user base for Solaris on the x86 platform, Schwartz said.

Users can access Solaris source code now for a fee, he said.

An analyst, however, questioned what kind of foothold Solaris could gain in an open-source format given that Linux already has had a substantial head start on the Intel platform.

"Nobody tells me that Linux is failing in some significant way on Intel, so it would [have to] be failing in some significant way in order for there to be traction" for Solaris, said Ted Schadler, software analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. He added that Linux is rapidly gaining the software support it needs to succeed.

Sun currently offers Linux as an operating system for its LX50 entry-level server.

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