SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems gave developers a gift at the CommunityOne developer conference on Monday--a packaged version of OpenSolaris with a new logo. Now, Sun is hoping developers will return the favor by creating applications to run on the open-source version of its Solaris operating system and thus drive more demand for its servers and software.
The move is the latest in Sun's effort in the better part of a decade to regain relevance in a post-dot-com bust world by transforming into an open source player. Borrowing a trick from Microsoft and its own early successes with Java, Sun has learned that fostering a vibrant developer community, means more apps for your platform, and that theoretically translates into more hardware sales and service contracts, even if the software is free.
During the keynote at CommunityOne, Ian Murdock, who heads up Sun's operating system platform strategy, summed it up: "Sun's goal is to get the technology into as many developer hands as possible. He added, "When you need help scaling ...that's when we make our money."
Sun generally doesn't explicitly target Linux as OpenSolaris' competitive target, but in practice, it's the chief alternative, and the company hired Linux entrepreneur Murdock to spearhead its OpenSolaris effort, called Project Indiana. With OpenSolaris, Sun hopes to reproduce the success Linux had sneaking into corporate usage through developers' free downloads.
Already Intel is on board. David Stewart, an engineering manager at Intel, said his company is working with OpenSolaris on projects involving the Xeon chip, wireless, creating server functionality on a laptop, and power optimization.
AMD announced Monday it's working with Sun to make sure OpenSolaris, as well as Sun's xVM variant of the Xen virtualization software, can take advantage of features in its processors.
Over the past few years, Sun has opened up its operating system and Java Web development software, as well as begun to embrace other technologies like Java Script, PHP, Linux, and Perl. And with its CommunityOne conference, Sun is reaching out to the developer community like never before.
The conference opened with remarks from Murdock, a brief appearance by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz, and a panel of open-source experts from Sun and elsewhere discussing the notion of community. Asked what role corporations should play in open-source projects, panel members said paying developers to work on open-source software benefits the larger community, but companies should tread carefully.
"Software projects fail when the company name becomes associated with the project and not the software behind it," said Jeremy Allison, who who leads SAMBA file-server software work at Google. He also complained about companies that "try and capture a project or start a project and never release it."
Meanwhile, Marten Mickos, senior vice president of Sun's database group and former chief executive of MySQL, assured the crowd that MySQL will remain open source indefinitely, despite speculation to the contrary.
But now that developers finally have a full-featured open-source operating system package to play with, will they move away from Linux, which is independent and more mature and established?
"That's the $64 billion question," said Jonathan Eunice, founder and principal IT advisor at Illuminata.
"Sun doesn't need it to be thought of as a commercial success. The trick is is it large enough to be economically interesting and viable and...self-propagating," he said. "Sun has a pretty good shot at it."
(CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.)