OpenSolaris is dead!

Earlier this year, Oracle bought Sun Microsystems, the creator of Solaris (and OpenSolaris) –shutting down OpenSolaris. Well, no big surprise there –considering I don’t think of “Oracle” when I think “Free Source benefactor”– and they’ve confirmed this image.

Despite having unparalleled in-house utilities such as ZFS, Sun had been losing market share and product visibility to the Gnu-Linuxes for years. In an attempt to counter this move, Sun had started to open its code. Sun even went as far as to hire Debian founder Ian Murdock to gain a Debian/Gnu userland and apply it onto the Sun (BSD based) kernel. (This was the latter part of the Indiana project, which ended breaking off as Nexenta, if memory serves.) Initially, this was to make better on the “usability gap” (maintenance/updating/upgrading) as Murdock put it in March 19, 2007. Apparently, it was too little, too late –because Sun never recouped the glory it had during its dot-com heyday. Adding to the humiliation, Sun lost 80% of its stock value between 2007 and 2008.

This year, Oracle came in and presumably bought the company cheap (6.4 billion US), “taking along” Sun’s OS technologies. Obviously, “taking along” is a relative term, as a lot of code was under a Libre enough license(s?) to warrant OpenSolaris. Still, the killing off of OpenSolaris, by eliminating all funding is a hard blow.

You can read about it from Sun employee blogs yourself, but one employee states the following.

“This concludes over four years that I (and many other external contributors) have worked on the OpenSolaris project. This is a terrible sendoff for countless hours of work – for quality software which will now ship as an Oracle product that we (the original authors) can no longer obtain on an unrestricted basis.”.


Furthermore, the email that was leaked (posted in its entirety in the above link) clarifies Oracle’s stance.

“Solaris is not something we outsource to
others, it is not the assembly of someone else’s technology, and it is
not a sustaining-only product.”

The moral of the story, boys & girls

The problem with a developing (and/or using) software that is closed, semi-closed (Open Source) and software that is almost entirely funded by private companies is that when the (company) tide turns, you can find yourself washed up ashore.

The only hope for the open Solaris code is to have created enough inertia and have had enough of the code released under a Libre license so as to allow for continued community development. I’m referring to the creation of a self-sustaining mini-ecosystem to itself. Fortunately, OpenSolaris developers have organized themselves into an upstream project called Illumos, and they are working on replacing what non-free code was left.

Illumos devs hope to maintain compatibility, and have invited Oracle to participate/coordinate. At this moment in time, Oracle has not answered.

Advice to Illumos

Forget Oracle and about about maintaining compatibility. They left you guys out in the cold without a moment’s notice at that, so what loyalty do you owe them? Do your own thing or join in with what the GPL masses are doing. Playing catch up and trying to keep this sort of consistency doesn’t seem to be feasible. Look at the the GNUstep movement that is trying to catch up with Cocoa. They’re still far from a stable release –and they’ve been working on that for years!

On the off-hand chance that Illumos achieves to establish itself as a viable self-sustaining alternative, I can easily see Oracle providing funding, under the guise of a benevolent patron (that has had an epiphany). It’s cheaper to fund a Libre source project with inertia, than to write code entirely in-house. On the other hand, Indian coders today work for pennies a day, don’t they?

My only worry about the entire project is that they might fail to attract Gnu-Linux hackers, as (historically) both parties tend to have a strained relationship with each other.

For a distro that is going to be based on Illumos, see StormOS. It sounds really interesting, but from recent reviews, it’s still not up to par with Gnu-Linux (it’s sure to improve once it’s based on Illumos) –on another front, we have Debian Gnu/kfreebsd as an example of a true BSD kernel with a Debian GNU userland (although, it’s not ready for the laptop). Variety is always good.

As a side note, the StormOS homepage states: “With all of this talk about Nexenta possibly becoming an official Debian port … ” The two parties have even communicated and the Debian port even has a homepage.

What’s this about Nexenta becoming a Debian port!? Odd, very odd, but good.

Maurice Cepeda

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