Devil Is in Details of Sun's Free Solaris Program

Logistics issues are giving Sun Microsystems Inc. second thoughts on releasing to developers the entire source code of its Solaris operating system under its Free Solaris 8 Source License Program, according to a company official.

Sun announced in January this year that it would make the Solaris 8 source code available free to developers by the third quarter of this year. The program is targeted at service providers, Internet appliance makers, developers of embedded systems and others who need easy access to the Solaris source code to innovate faster.

"One issue is getting it ready so that people can make sense of 5 (million) to 10 million lines of code. There are not many people who know what to do with 10 million lines of code. Freeware, open source is fine when you are talking about hundreds of lines of code," Anil Gadre, Sun's vice president and general manager for Solaris Software, told IDG News Service.

"So one is an ease of use issue, and we have to try and make it friendly. The other thing we are finding out is that maybe people actually wanted certain parts and not the whole thing."

An alternative Sun is considering is to release the code in parts, each relevant to different developer segments. "When we did the announcement, I think we should have taken our time to think a little bit further about the slices of communities that have different interests in different parts of the code," said Gadre.

He added that the objective of the Free Solaris 8 Source License Program was not to copy Linux strategy but to improve the ability of people, who might want to innovate on Solaris, to get their hands on the right code they need. In this context, the requirements of different communities, such as hobbyists, appliance makers and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) tend to be very different, with each community having an interest in different parts of the code.

Sun is working with San Francisco-based Collab.Net, a provider of collaborative software development services around open source principles, to help manage the transition to open source. "When you go to open source, people have expectations," said Gadre. " People want community; they want chat rooms, support and all kinds of ongoing care and feeding, which is how companies like Collab.Net get created."

Even as it tries to make access to Solaris source code easier, Sun has a number of conditions in its licensing model, including compatibility testing of third-party development that modifies the source code of the operating system.

"I am happy to give someone Solaris source code and let them do whatever they want with it, if they don't want to use the name 'Solaris' when they are done," said Gadre. "Because, if you are going to say it is Solaris, then suddenly there is an expectation that all the ISV (independent software vendor) software will run on it."

While developers will be free to develop layered software on top of Solaris and sell the software, developers that modify the source code will have to work out a license agreement with Sun before selling it as Solaris.

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