Sun to release first OpenSolaris tidbit Tuesday

Company will begin releasing its Solaris OS as open-source software, starting with a new performance analysis and debugging tool.

Stephen Shankland
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Sun Microsystems will begin releasing its Solaris operating system as open-source software on Tuesday, starting with a new performance analysis and debugging tool called Dynamic Tracing.

"DTrace" is one of Sun's most loudly touted new features in version 10 of Solaris. Although the operating system will be available by the end of January, those wanting to see the full source code under the OpenSolaris plan will have to wait until the second quarter of 2005, a Sun representative said Monday.

Sun's OpenSolaris plan--to be formally unveiled Tuesday, along with legal details, the OpenSolaris.org Web site and a new community advisory board--is an attempt to steal some of the thunder of Linux, a project that unlike Solaris was open-source software from its earliest days. In another part of its Linux assault, Sun will make Solaris 10 available at no cost, a contrast to the practice of top Linux seller Red Hat, which requires payment for use of its Enterprise Linux.

Sun had hoped to launch OpenSolaris in 2004, but it was held up by licensing discussions with companies, Sun executives have said.

"The long and short of it is that going through the 5 to 10 million lines of code that is Solaris and making sure everything is ready to go takes a long time," said Tom Goguen, Sun's director of Solaris marketing, in a Monday interview. "We want to drive to get the whole thing on the Web starting sometime next quarter."

Sun representatives will hold two of the five positions on the OpenSolaris advisory board, Goguen said. The Sun minority will share power with two outside members of the OpenSolaris pilot project--elected by others in the project--and a representative of the broader open-source community, he said. The board members will probably be named by March, Goguen added.

Solaris--the software as sold and supported by Sun--will be a carefully tested and certified subset of OpenSolaris, Goguen said. It's not clear yet what mechanism will determine which code contributions are accepted into OpenSolaris, but Goguen said Sun would like a large group to control the approval process, as happens with Solaris itself.

Also on Monday, Sun confirmed plans to use the Community Development and Distribution License, a move first reported by CNET News.com. The license precludes programmers from intermingling Solaris and Linux software but does permit swapping with projects under several other open-source licenses.

"We are going to be doing OpenSolaris under the CDDL, and as a sign of how serious we are, we packaged up DTrace source code and made that available under the CDDL," Goguen said.

Rivals have responded differently to the arrival of Linux. Hewlett-Packard and IBM, the No. 2 and No. 3 sellers of Unix servers after Sun, embraced the operating system years before Sun and did so with more enthusiasm. IBM and HP see Linux as a way to advance their favored processor designs--IBM's Power and Intel's Itanium, respectively.

And Dell, which is a growing power in the market for servers using x86 processors such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, considered supporting Solaris in 1999 before settling unequivocally on Linux for its Unix-like option.

Sun said it spent more than $500 million in development to upgrade Solaris 9 into Solaris 10. The company has more than 1,000 Solaris programming engineers, Goguen said.

DTrace can be used to pick apart software as it runs, finding and tracking what processes are being requested by what programs. Unlike some probe technology, which requires a special version of the operating system, support for DTrace is included in the standard Solaris kernel.

"DTrace is a facility in Solaris 10 that dynamically instruments the kernel, dynamically instruments the applications, and weaves it together in real time," Bryan Cantrill, one of the programmers behind the software, said during a November presentation.

Cantrill said he used a DTrace prototype to diagnose a performance problem on a Sun server in 2002. "This is a machine that had 3,400 processes. But six knuckleheaded processes were bringing this system to its knees. Before DTrace, you didn't have a chance in hell of discovering this," he said.

DTrace is the favorite Solaris 10 feature of Sun programmer Alan DuBoff, one of the "Secret Six" who urged the company to reverse its 2002 decision to all but cancel the version of Solaris for x86 servers. Sun hired DuBoff in 2003.

Some software companies expressed concern that DTrace could let customers find out where those companies' software was inferior. There's some truth to that, DuBoff said, but he pointed out that the software subjects Sun to the exact same scrutiny.

"DTrace is like being in a nudist colony," DuBoff said. "There are no secrets--not even for Solaris."

But DTrace is the only thing open-source programmers will be permitted to see for the time being.

One of the troubles in releasing the Solaris source code has been getting rights to as much of the code as possible. Initially, Sun thought the sticking point would be with the Unix code originally licensed from AT&T, but in fact rights also had to be obtained from companies such as LSI Logic, DuBoff said. "A lot of the code didn't have specific copyrights. It was taking time figuring out where it came from," he said.

DTrace is one of several features coming with the new version, including containers that let a single server appear to be several independent ones; predictive self-healing, which finds and sidesteps hardware problems; faster networking; more detailed permission controls that restrict administrators to having only the privileges they require; and support for 64-bit x86 processors.

Coming in later updates to Solaris will be the ZFS file system, designed to bring greater reliability to the process of organizing data on storage systems, and the Linux Application Environment, code-named Janus, which lets Red Hat Linux software run without modification on Solaris x86.