Sun poised to take open-source Solaris step

Firm is expected to start sharing some source code of the OS and to detail its OpenSolaris plan on Tuesday.

Sun Microsystems is about to take the next step in its plan to refurbish the reputation of its Solaris operating system in the eyes of a small but crucial group: programmers.

The company is expected to start sharing some source code of the Unix version and to detail its OpenSolaris plan on Tuesday, moves it hopes will help build an active programming community around the software.

Developers are a key link in a growth cycle that connects students, new projects, customer purchasing and software-partner support. And developers could help Sun amplify its effort to expand Solaris from its niche on computers using Sun's own Sparc processors to the vastly larger market of machines using x86 processors such as Intel's Pentium and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron.


What's new:
Sun is poised to open a new front in its war with Linux by making Solaris open-source software, a move it hopes will bring in new customers and revenue.

Bottom line:
Sun has begun attracting some developers--but the company faces enormous challenges in building a vibrant and broad open-source developer community.

More stories on open-source Solaris

Solaris remains a popular version of Unix, and its widespread use in the dot-com boom helped Sun fend off an assault by Microsoft's Windows. But Linux--which can be downloaded for free and is an easy switch from Unix--poses a different threat altogether. It's widely used among computing students who can take it apart and rebuild it to see how it works--and those are the people who later turn into the system administrators who will be tapped to set up their employers' new server farm.

"Sun is clearly trying to recapture mind share with developers that in some cases are looking more toward Linux as a reference platform for new application development," said Meta Group analyst Brian Richardson.

Linux leader Linus Torvalds and others believe Sun has its work cut out for it. Take the example of Brian Gilman, president of Panther Informatics, which helps clients deal with computing systems for biotechnology tasks such as drug discovery.

"I just hired a cheap kid to do stuff for me. He's from MIT, so he's supposed to know everything. They're getting trained on Linux," Gilman said.

To see the magnitude of the challenge Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun faces, though, you don't have to look farther than Red Hat, the top Linux seller.

Its core Red Hat Enterprise Linux product is built with the help of countless outside programmers in a broad and deep open-source community, and the company itself contributes to numerous open-source programs. Yet Red Hat still is struggling to build its own programming community, called Fedora.

"If Red Hat is having trouble developing any kind of community around

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