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'Open Source Solaris' to debut this year

As it readies Solaris 10, Sun develops an open-source project modeled on Apple's Darwin and Red Hat's Fedora.

BURLINGTON, Mass.--Sun Microsystems will create an open-source project around its Solaris 10 operating system by the end of the year, company executives said Monday.

Through the initiative, Sun engineers, partners and other programmers will be able to contribute to the development of the Unix operating system. Sun is testing the program right now with customers and will finalize it by the end of the year, according to Mark McClain, Sun's vice president of software marketing. Sun discussed its open-source plans at a Solaris 10 briefing with press and analysts at the company's Burlington, Mass., offices. The new operating system will be faster and more resilient to hardware and software errors.

The goal of open-sourcing Solaris 10, a major update of Sun's operating system set for completion by the end of the year, is to build interest in Solaris. In particular, the open-source project is aimed at developers and academics who will be able to make modifications to the code, Sun executives said.

The open source project will help Sun improve ties with a developer community outside of Sun, including volunteer programmers and academics, McClain said.

"We lost sight of being an innovative leader who is active in the developer community," McClain said.

Sun is now in the process of preparing for the project, which some Solaris engineers call Open Source Solaris in internal blogs.

The work done by Sun engineers will constitute the core operating system. For future versions, Sun will pick from the additions submitted by other project participants while ensuring that Solaris does not split into different, incompatible versions, executives said. Sun will model its open-source project on what Apple is doing with Darwin or Red Hat does with Fedora, said Glen Weinberg, vice president of Sun's operating platforms group.

As part of preparations, the company working out legal concerns, establishing a mechanism to take outside contributions, and discussing the proper governance model for the open-source project, company executives said. Because some portions of Solaris 10, such as device drivers, are the property of other companies, Sun will release source code as well as binaries, in which proprietary code is not accessible, Weinberg said.

One customer at the briefing said that he is eager to have Sun make Solaris 10 open-source. By making the code visible, Sun customers will have an easier time making third-party open source software work well with Solaris, said James Dobson, systems architect at Dartmouth College, who is using Solaris in medical imaging applications.

Adding to 10
Company executives detailed the major new enhancements in the operating system, including a new file system code-named ZFS; a more fine-grained security model for establishing access privileges; "predictive self-healing" software to prevent failures; and a dynamic tracing feature, called DTrace, for automatically diagnosing common problems.

The majority of Solaris applications run on servers built on Sun's own Sparc processor, but the company is aggressively promoting Solaris on x86 servers based on chips from Intel or AMD. Sun will have a minor update to Solaris 10 early in 2005. That upgrade will let the automatic diagnostic tools spot processor, memory, or input/output failures on servers based on x86 processors.

Solaris 10 will also have a feature called N1 Grid Containers, which can isolate several software processes on a single instance of the operating system. The feature will give customers more security and allow them to consolidate many computing jobs onto a single machine.

Sun intends to include a software addition called Janus with Solaris 10, which will enable Linux applications to run on Solaris unchanged. If Janus isn't ready for the Solaris 10 deadline, Sun will release the addition shortly after, Weinberg said.

Dartmouth's Dobson lauded the new features in Solaris 10, such as Janus, as well as Sun's program to promote use of Solaris on low-cost hardware servers. Dobson noted that some customers of Red Hat, which sells services around its version of Linux, have been unhappy with the company's licensing program.

"I won't pay for a Red Hat operating system when they added no other innovation except packaging," Dobson said.

Separately, Sun executives said that a far-reaching agreement with Microsoft to improve interoperability between Sun and Microsoft wares will not affect Solaris 10. However, the two companies have discussed other areas of technical integration, such as the file system in Solaris and Windows.

The two companies plan to make an announcement in October regarding initial collaborative work in Web services and directory interoperability, McClain said.