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Sun hesitant on Solaris licensing plans

Reports that Sun will open up Solaris under its Community Source License are true to the spirit of the company's plans, but the specifics are undetermined.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sun Microsystems wants its software to benefit from the open source programming movement, and the company's Solaris operating system could be a candidate.

Sun spokesman Nam LaMore today said the company's vision ultimately includes releasing all its software under its new Community Source License program, a kind of compromise between open source and proprietary licensing. The plan includes Solaris, its version of Unix.

However, Brian Croll, director of marketing for Solaris, told a somewhat different story. He said Sun is evaluating many possibilities, but declined to say whether Sun plans to open up the Solaris source code.

"We are definitely considering all our options of what we can do. At present we aren't ready to say what we can do to help out on the open source front," he said.

Reports that Sun will open its Solaris source code under the Community Source License are true to the spirit of what Sun is trying to do, but "the specifics aren't quite there yet," he said.

Sun's Community Source License allows developers to see a program's source code--the original programming blueprints--but a company has to pay Sun royalties if it distributes software using the code. It's a more proprietary approach than its cousin, the open source programming model, which places no limits on modifications and distribution. The Linux operating system is the most famous product of the open source model.

Among the obstacles to opening up the source code of Sun software is the fact that other companies have contributed to it, and Sun has to make sure the company "isn't stepping over any lines" with regard to that non-Sun intellectual property, Croll said.

In addition, Sun has to make sure it doesn't alienate the open source community. "We have to make sure we are not perceived in any way as trying to rain on the parade or spoil the party. We don't want to hurt anything with good intentions," Croll said.

Though Sun's Community Source License is far closer to the open source model than, for example, Microsoft's completely proprietary approach, some open source advocates have criticized the Community Source License as not going far enough.

"We would like to see Sun release their intellectual property, which is something you have to do to be true on open source," said Tim Wilkinson, chief executive of Transvirtual, a company that has its own version of Java that uses no Sun code.

"If Sun, with its Community Source License, maintains its control of Java, then all you're doing is swapping a Windows API for a JavaSoft API, and that doesn't seem like a particularly good deal to me," Wilkinson said, speaking at a meeting earlier this month at CityJava.

Apparently Sun is sensitive to the philosophies of the open source followers who will be out in force at the LinuxWorld Expo next week in San Jose. The computing giant canceled a news conference it had scheduled for Tuesday.

"We changed our tactics," said one Sun source familiar with the cancellation. "The Linux community values privacy and intimacy and informality. To have anything staged is a really bad idea. We have to be sensitive to our audience."

Croll noted that that the open source movement is "akin" to Sun's origins. "We're very supportive of the whole open source movement. We think this is good for the industry, good for customers, and perhaps surprisingly, good for Solaris," Croll said.

Sun has already made its Java 2 and Jini software available under its Community Source License, and the Palo Alto, California, computer company plans to make its PersonalJava and EmbeddedJava products similarly available.