Sun license gets open-source nod

The company has secured a crucial approval in its plan to make Solaris an open-source project, CNET News.com has learned.

Stephen Shankland
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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Sun Microsystems has secured a crucial approval in its plan to make its Solaris operating system an open-source project, CNET News.com has learned.

In December, Sun submitted its Community Development and Distribution License, or CDDL, for approval by the Open Source Initiative, the nonprofit group that decides whether software license agreements meet the terms of its Open Source Definition. OSI's board approved the CDDL on Friday, board member Russ Nelson said.

Sun won't comment on whether the CDDL will govern Solaris, but sources familiar with the situation say it will. Sun has said it will release Solaris under an OSI-approved open-source license by the end of January.

Solaris has lost much of the operating system dominance it had in the dot-com era to Linux, an open-source project developed by thousands of programmers worldwide. Sun is trying to win back some of that developer attention by building a new open-source programming community around Solaris.

Sun, which has become more financially stable but still hasn't regained its footing, also is pushing Solaris for use on servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron. That's a departure for a company that until recent years sold only servers using its own UltraSparc processors.

Linux is covered by a different agreement, the General Public License, or GPL. Sharing code between the CDDL and the GPL isn't permitted, Sun believes, which means the two programming communities won't have a common base of software they can share.

Sun isn't the only company to avidly court developers, an influential group in the computing industry. Today's programming students--who often learn Linux in their computer science courses--are tomorrow's system administrators and purchasing executives.

But building an open-source community can be difficult--particularly for Sun. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has irked some by not making Java open-source software. And Sun has already tried several other licenses for sharing its code: the Sun Industry Standards Source License, the Sun Public License and the Sun Community Source License.

Sun has deep open-source roots, however. For example, for years it used the BSD variant of Unix from the University of California at Berkeley. BSD became the core of open-source projects such as FreeBSD, NetBSD and openBSD.

Official open-source approval also carries another benefit: IBM said last week it won't sue for patent infringement if any of 500 specific patents are used in software under OSI-approved licenses.