Tech Industry

IBM takes potshots at OpenSolaris

Big Blue, a major Linux fan, bashes top rival Sun's effort to make its Unix an open-source operating system.

SAN FRANCISCO--OpenSolaris isn't a true open-source project, but rather a "facade," because Sun Microsystems doesn't share control of it with outsiders, executives from rival IBM say.

"Sun holds it all behind the firewall. The community sees nothing," Dan Frye, the IBM vice president who runs the company's Linux Technology Center, said Tuesday in an interview at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo. "It's a facade. There's lots of marketing, but no community to speak of."

Sun could do "simple things" to build a real OpenSolaris community if it were serious about doing so, Frye said. "They would push their design discussions out into the forums, so people can see what's going on," he suggested.

Sun, unsurprisingly, begs to differ. "I'm not sure why IBM is attacking the OpenSolaris community," said Jim Grisanzio, pointing to the 16 times Sun has released open-source software and to the 116 contributions outsiders have made since the project began more than a year ago.

IBM's business agenda, though, doesn't include lavishing praise on a rival operating system. It prefers Linux and its own proprietary version of Unix, called AIX. Solaris now runs on x86 computers such as IBM's System x servers as well as on Sun's own Sparc-based computers. OpenSolaris is designed to appeal to developers, who have the power to sneak software into companies the same way Linux snuck in during the 1990s.

IBM was concerned that OpenSolaris could become a "competitive threat," and Frye assigned a programmer to monitor OpenSolaris goings-on. The company concluded there is no threat.

"They have done nothing to build a community," with only 16 non-Sun people contributing code to the project in its first 11 months, Frye said. Linux, in comparison, had 10 times that number in the same period after it was launched by Linus Torvalds in 1991--and that was with no Internet and no advertisements, Frye said.

Sun has its own measurements. "We have 130 mail lists, where thousands of community members are openly talking. We started about 40 communities and 40 projects; we released code 16 times since our launch; our road map is open; we are building a governance (process) openly; our development process is published; we have integrated 119 code contributions; and we have been evaluating a source code management system openly and are now entering the implementation phase," Grisanzio said. "Not a bad start, I'd say."

IBM helped put Linux on the map, funding programmers to improve the operating system and offering early pledges of support that indicated it was safe for customers to use. The company has more than 600 programmers at its Linux Technology Center, but it's actively involved in many open-source projects besides Linux. Among them are the Eclipse programming tools and the Aperi systems management project.

"We're going to be as bold about open source as we are about Linux," said Scott Handy, senior vice president of Linux and open source at IBM.

But in the years since IBM got open-source religion through Linux, Sun arguably got the same faith even more fervently.

OpenSolaris is one example. The other "crown jewel" in Sun's software portfolio, Java, will start becoming open-source by the end of 2006, in a process that will be done by June 2007, the company said this week. And the designs for Sun's new UltraSparc T1 "Niagara" processor have been released under the General Public License.

One open-source operating system is plenty, though, so there would be no point to making AIX open-source, IBM's Handy said. "There's room for a proprietary one and an open one. Once one is open, you don't need any more," he said.

And making IBM's Power processors an open-source project poses risks, Handy said. Specifically, the freedoms of an open-source approach could mean others take the processors in a different direction, so software wouldn't necessarily run on all models.

"You don't want the architecture to not be compatible with itself moving forward," Handy said.