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Has OpenSolaris Reached the End of the Road?

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An internal unofficial Oracle memo has outlined a new policy regarding the OpenSolaris operating system. Some consider this as the death of OpenSolaris, but others point to the opportunity for the project to be carried on by  Illumos, an open source organization that wants a completely open OpenSolaris, providing the code that is currently closed and not depending on Oracle.

The internal memo signed by Mike Shapiro, Bill Nesheim, Chris Armes (and not yet official) changes how the source code is to be made available:

We will distribute updates to approved CDDL or other open source-licensed code following full releases of our enterprise Solaris operating system. In this manner, new technology innovations will show up in our releases before anywhere else. We will no longer distribute source code for the entirety of the Solaris operating system in real-time while it is developed, on a nightly basis.

Anyone who is consuming Solaris code using the CDDL, whether in pieces or as a part of the OpenSolaris source distribution or a derivative thereof, would therefore be able to consume any updates we release at that time, under the terms of the CDDL, LGPL, or whatever license

Oracle is also planning to use its OTN program in relation to partners interested in getting early access to the code:

We will have a technology partner program to permit our industry partners full access to the in-development Solaris source code through the Oracle Technology Network (OTN). This will include both early access to code and binaries, as well as contributions to us where that is appropriate. All such partnerships will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but certainly our core, existing technology partnerships, such as the one with Intel, are examples of valued participation.

This move is considered to be a blow for the OpenSolaris community which won’t be able to influence the course of the operating system because the source code is going to be released late after the binaries for the enterprise versions of Solaris have been released. Following the leaked memo, some have declared OpenSolaris dead. Beside that, Steven Stallion, a Software Engineer and OpenSolaris contributor, considers Oracle is acting against the open source spirit:

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.

I can only maintain that the software we worked on was for the betterment of all, not for any one company's bottom line. This is truly a perversion of the open source spirit.

John Plocher, the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB) Chair, remarked:

That's all Folks,

It seems Oracle is no longer interested in working with an external community to develop new versions of Solaris. Without such a partnership, there is no longer any way for our OpenSolaris development community to continue as it was chartered. Rather than continue waiting for a more positive outcome, I believe it is time to let Oracle reconstitute things under some other umbrella, if they so choose.

And he called the members to officially dissolve OGB submitting the following motion:

Motion concerning dissolution of the OGB
Whereas Oracle has continued ignore requests to appoint a liaison to work with the OGB concerning the future of OpenSolaris development and our community, and
Whereas Oracle distributed an email to its employees on Aug 13 2010 that set forth Oracle's decision to unilaterally terminate the development partnership between Oracle and the OpenSolaris Community, and
Whereas, without the continued support and participation of Oracle in the open development of OpenSolaris, the OGB and the community Sun/Oracle created to support the open Solaris development partnership have no meaning, and
Whereas the desire and enthusiasm for continuing open development of the OpenSolaris code base has clearly passed out of Oracle's (and thus this community's) hands into other communities,
Be it Resolved that the OpenSolaris Governing Board hereby collectively and individually resigns, noting that under the terms of the OpenSolaris Charter section 1.1 (and Constitution 1.3.5) the responsibility to appoint an OGB passes to Oracle.

The motion was carried unanimously on August 23rd meaning the end of the OpenSolaris organization. But some believe this is not the end of the OpenSolaris community. Earlier this month, the Illumos project was announced by Garrett D’Amore, the leader of the new organization. The plans were outlined in a slide (PDF):

  • the organization “can’t be ‘shut down’ or subverted by any corporate master”
  • limited governance
  • replacing all the closed code with open source one: libc_i18n, NFS lock manager, portions of crypto framework, many critical drivers.

D'Amore commented the OpenSolaris events on his blog:

The funny thing is, based on the calls I've had today, I could hardly be more optimistic about the future of illumos and the code base that was formerly called Solaris. Even more talent is getting behind this effort every day.

I'm very very excited... frankly Oracle shutting down the tap just really opened up the opportunity for us to really start innovating, in ways that I would have been loathe to do if we were still trying to maintain a very closely aligned source tree.

I think its entirely possible that Oracle may wind up viewing Illumos as the upstream rather than the reverse!

And he added later:

Illumos has garnered the support of some of the top minds in the industry; already the list of names of Solaris contributors and potential contributors that have already publicly committed to supporting this project is extensive. Many of the names are famous, people like Bryan Cantrill. Oracle's actions and inaction have actually made this possible. …

The upshot of this is that the future for Illumos is surprisingly bright. Rather than a dependency on the good will of one corporate sponsor with dubious intentions, the project will have the diverse backing of some of the most well-known innovators (and their employers) from the OpenSolaris -- nay, Open Source -- community.

So, by their actions here, Oracle may be forcing Illumos to "fork", which was always a prospect, even if not one I cherished. …

Oracle Solaris will not be the only source for this technology, and now it appears it may not even be the best source for this technology.

I once said I never intended for Illumos to compete with Solaris. That was true, but if Oracle forces the issue, then even despite their vast economic resources, I say, "Bring it!"

In the meantime, Oracle wants to hire engineers to work on Solaris:

We are increasing investment in Solaris, including hiring operating system expertise from throughout the industry, as a sign of our commitment," the memo said. "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...Our goal is simply to make [Solaris 11] the best and most important release of Solaris ever.

Plans for OpenSolaris started in 2004, and the first open source components were released by Sun on January 2005 with the bulk of the OS following in the summer of the same year. Subsequent versions were made available over time, the last being OpenSolaris 2009.06 with support for the SPARC platform. Another release was planned for March 2010, but it never saw the light of the day.

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