'Open-source' Solaris plan draws lukewarm response

Sun Microsystems's announcement last week that it plans to make Solaris an "open-source" operating system was met with mixed reactions from users and skepticism from open-source advocates.

"I'm totally nonplussed by the announcement," said Dale Pickford, chief infrastructure officer at Ocwen Technology Xchange, the technology subsidiary of financial services company Ocwen Financial.

Ocwen last year consolidated around 140 servers into several high-end Sun servers running Solaris -- one with more than 100 processors. For smaller servers with four or fewer CPUs, Linux on Intel is suitable, Pickford said. But for systems larger than that, "the Sparc (processor) and Solaris environment really comes into its own," he said. "And once you start playing at that level anyway, you don't want to be messing with the OS."

Terry Verity, CIO at Seneca College in Toronto, runs 66 Sun servers, including one with an Oracle database containing 50 million records. Verity said he opted for Solaris over Linux because it's strongly supported, secure and well maintained. Although Verity said using Linux is becoming less of a security concern, he plans to stick with Solaris.

Allowing developers to make contributions to source code is a good thing, said Verity. "We like to get at source code because we think we can do more interesting things with it," he said.

At Sun's announcement in Shanghai this week, Jonathan Schwartz, the company's president and chief operating officer, said Sun would "take the model that we used with Java" and extend it to Solaris. "Make no mistake, we will open-source Solaris."

But open-source advocates maintain that the Java licensing scheme isn't a true open-source model because it still gives Sun control over the final product, said Eric Raymond, president of the nonprofit Open Source Initiative. "We don't think we have grounds for optimism here," he said.

Jon Hall, executive director of Linux International, a vendor group based in Amherst, N.H., that promotes Linux use, said the fact that the announcement was made in Shanghai suggests that it was aimed at countries such as China that are pushing open-source over proprietary systems.

But for commercial users, analysts doubt it will have much impact.

"I don't think that they will care whether or not Solaris is developed using an open-source model," said Perry Donham, an enterprise systems consultant at Collaborative Consulting in Woburn, Mass. "They will care that the software works and that they can get support from Sun."

Unix systems, primarily IBM's AIX, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX and Solaris, are losing ground to Linux and Windows. According to market research company IDC, 866,000 Unix operating system shipped worldwide in 2000. That number declined to 622,000 in 2002. IDC is still assembling its 2003 data, but analyst Dan Kusnetzky said he expects that those numbers to also show a decline.

"I think Sun is trying to slow down or perhaps halve the erosion of its base by trying to offer in Solaris the things that are perceived as attractive about Linux and other open-source environments," said Kusnetzky. They include the ability to have some input and make source-code changes, he said.

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