OpenSolaris board in OpenRevolt against Oracle

Governing board that oversees the open-source Solaris community, frustrated by months of "radio silence" from Oracle, threatens to disband.

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Stephen Shankland
4 min read

One of Sun Microsystems' ambitious dreams, a vibrant open-source community for the Solaris operating system to rival the Linux collective, is in serious danger of evaporating in the Oracle era.

Oracle is committed to Solaris, a version of Unix, but the future of the open-source OpenSolaris project is in limbo, and the OpenSolaris Governing Board that oversees the open-source community is threatening to disband.

Sun poured resources into the OpenSolaris project in an attempt to give it some of the new-era flavor and developer attention devoted to rival Linux. After Oracle's acquisition of Sun, though, the board is struggling to hear anything at all from Oracle, according to mailing list messages and the minutes of Monday's OpenSolaris Governing Board meeting.

A motion from board member Neale Ferguson, who's worked to help translate OpenSolaris to work on IBM's Power processors, reads as follows: "The OGB is keen to promote the uptake and open development of OpenSolaris and to work on behalf of the community with Oracle, as such the OGB needs Oracle to appoint a liaison by August 16, 2010, who has the authority to talk about the future of OpenSolaris and its interaction with the OpenSolaris community. Otherwise the OGB will take action at the August 23 meeting to trigger the clause in the OGB charter that will return control of the community to Oracle."

Oracle didn't respond to a request for comment. However, board member and former Sun employee John Plocher spoke to Oracle Chief Customer Officer Jeb Dasteel, who said Oracle would "like us to wait a couple of months before we make any moves to disband," according to the minutes.

This isn't the first open-source concern at Oracle, a major proprietary software company. The European Union's European Commission objected to Oracle's Sun acquisition because of fears of how it would handle the open-source MySQL database. Oracle won the EC approval eventually after Oracle pledged to continue MySQL development under the GNU General Public License, among other promises.

In the case of OpenSolaris, it's not clear how long Oracle can wait, though, if it wants to nurture a community that never did match the broad corporate and volunteer participation built around Linux.

Plocher expressed exasperation on the OpenSolaris Governing Board mailing list:

I'd have to say the OGB is alive, but on life support. We have been contacting senior Oracle management and talking to them about the devastating impact their continued radio silence is having on what used to be a vibrant open source community, but every place we turn, we hear the same mantra: Oracle's senior management has not made up its mind as to what to do with the OpenSolaris developer community, so the company officially says nothing at all...

Our community was chartered because both Sun and the community were committed to "open and constructive development and dissemination of [a subset of the Solaris Operating System's] code base." The OGB, in particular, was created to "to manage and direct an OpenSolaris community in its efforts to improve upon and advocate in favor of OpenSolaris, so that the community may long endure."

Since Oracle bought out Sun, we've seen their commitment to the above dry up almost completely. In the three months since this OGB took office, we have had no Oracle/OGB Liaison, no Oracle employees on the OGB, no Oracle Web site support for our new constitution, no community-driven distro, and no real communication between Oracle and the OGB...Many of the senior [Open]Solaris engineering leaders were RIF'd or have since jumped ship. Not a pretty picture at all.

And in another message, Plocher said of April and later board meetings:

The first "official" business was that our only OGB member from Oracle resigned because her new job/manager didn't want her spending time with our community...

The last few meetings have been focused on whether or not we should continue the charade. The wall of complete and utter silence formerly known as Sun Microsystems has drained all the enthusiasm from the board, since it seems that there is no longer a community out there to "govern."

Joining him was Dennis Clarke, another longtime OpenSolaris participant.

"Oracle has done more damage to the open community concept in six months than all of Sun's financial and product blunders could do in a decade," Clarke said.

That message drew criticism from one longtime Solaris engineer, Alan Coopersmith, who urged restraint in a response.

"Believe me, I know the problems with your lack of contact, and have been pushing up the chain from this side--which I thought had some effect," Coopersmith said. "If you constantly attack them like this message, I wouldn't either. Smash down the few people trying to help you and soon you'll have destroyed everything by yourself."