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Feature: Unix

Opening Solaris opens door to community, derivative distros

By Stephen Feller on December 05, 2005 (8:00:00 AM)

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When it released the source code to its Solaris operating system, Sun Microsystems bet that people would pick it up and run. Sun said it wanted to see a community form around the OpenSolaris code, and take it beyond what the company had done with it in its more than 25 years of development of the OS. Today the community Sun was looking for seems to be coming to life.

Since the OpenSolaris community was launched in June, at least three derivative distributions -- SchilliX, BeleniX, and Nexenta -- have been created and released. Parts of OpenSolaris are also making their way into other operating systems. A port of DTrace is in the works for FreeBSD.

Claire Giordano, director of the OpenSolaris marketing team, said that almost 10,000 people have registered at the OpenSolaris community Website, and that more than 24 OpenSolaris user groups have been created worldwide.

"We're pleased as punch that developers are innovating on the OpenSolaris platform," Giordano said. "[We wanted] to create a platform for innovation by enabling community members to use the OpenSolaris technology for their own products and projects ... and to grow the ecosystem around the OpenSolaris technology."

Although Solaris itself had been free to download and use for some time, the source code had not been released to the public. Giordano said that customers had been requesting access to the code with increasing frequency and that Sun's goal in releasing the code was to marry its technology with an open source community development model, where they see the company and the community benefiting greatly as a result.

Parts of OpenSolaris are still not open source, however. Moinak Ghosh, who works for Sun in Bangalore, India, and is the lead developer on BeleniX, noted in a post to the Bangalore OpenSolaris user group in July that OpenSolaris was not yet self-hosting. This prevented what he called a "pure bootable OpenSolaris environment," because some components are still closed source.

Sun has laid out a roadmap for all components to be released under an open source license by sometime after July 2006.

In addition to meeting customer requests for open code, OpenSolaris will have educational benefits as well. Giordano said that Sun expects Solaris to become more widely used in computer science curriculums at universities around the country as a result of the code release, but that the real, immediate educational benefits will be felt by Sun employees who work with the operating system -- and she said it is already happening.

"The conversations on are making a difference," Giordano said of the site's message boards and mailing lists. "Beyond the obvious benefit of the contributions from community members that have been integrated into the OpenSolaris source base, the OpenSolaris community members who do wear Sun badges are benefiting from the direct connection to community members who don't wear a Sun badge."

Bring on the derivatives

SchilliX, an OpenSolaris-based live CD, was the first OpenSolaris derivative released, only days after Sun's release of the OpenSolaris code. OpenSolaris can be installed from the SchilliX CD to a hard drive or USB memory stick. Lead developer Jörg Schilling did not respond to requests for comment in time for this story.

BeleniX was the second OpenSolaris-based distro to be released, with the 0.1 version debuting in early October. lead developer Ghosh said he sees the code release as an opportunity for Sun to get wider acceptance of Solaris, as well as a way to stimulate further interest in using it.

"This is also the opportunity to expand the Solaris platform to fill in many more niches and application areas," Ghosh said. "This is possible only via open community participation."

Ghosh has been working for Sun for two and a half years, but he is not a part of its OpenSolaris team. He started working on BeleniX in his spare time -- what he said was three months of weekends and late nights to figure out how to get the live CD to boot. Calling it "a great learning experience," Ghosh spent that time filling in the holes left by pieces of Solaris whose code has not yet been released to the community.

Ghosh said he started at the bottom by learning how system booting works with the Nevada release of Solaris. Ghosh also found other issues along the way that required him either to pore through Sun's technical documents or pick the brains of his Sun coworkers.

"I wanted to implement things from scratch," Ghosh said of his massive research and self-education about Solaris and building a live CD operating system. "Some will call this reinventing the wheel, but for me it was one big learning experience."

Ghosh said he also "borrowed a couple of ideas from" Debian, Knoppix, and SchilliX, but tried to avoid "understanding their implementation" because he wanted to figure it out himself.

The GPL and CDDL butt heads

Nexenta debuted on November 7, and has generated more interest and discussion than BeleniX and SchilliX combined because of its hybrid development as a Debian-based OS using the OpenSolaris kernel and filled out with a majority of packages that originated in Ubuntu, said Alex Ross, a developer on the project.

"Nexenta, at its early stage, creates a new set of opportunities for open source developers," Ross said. "The early stage is one thing, but there's also the fact that it is already stable to the degree that we run all our stuff on it."

The OS is so stable to start off with because of its dependence on so much that has already been developed, leaving what Ross said is a relatively small Nexenta team to weave it all together.

From the start, Ross said, the user experience is simplified because "it looks and feels like a Linux box, or more exactly, an Ubuntu Linux box." Although he said it's not a priority, the look will be customized in the future to create a unique identity for Nexenta, but the team is more focused on continuing to add to Nexenta's available packages. The Nexenta repository already has more than 2,300 packages.

The aspect of the operating system that has generated most of the discussion is the fact that Nexenta is very "GNU-centric," Ross said. While the OS uses the OpenSolaris kernel and core runtime, including the Sun C Library, the rest is GNU-related open source software. The controversy, however, comes with the use of Debian's dpkg package management system.

Some Debian developers and community members took issue with Nexenta's use of GPLed software in conjunction with Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which is considered by some to be incompatible with the GPL. The issue raised by the community is whether Debian's GPLed binaries can be linked to differently licensed libraries. Many users believe it cannot.

Debian founder Ian Murdock expressed dismay over the community response to Nexenta. Murdock, who admitted in the post that perhaps Nexenta did not introduce itself to the Debian community in the best way, said he didn't feel the use was a violation of the license, and in fact was "excited" by the potentials of improving on Solaris.

He cautioned those voicing opposition to Nexenta that if they are right about the licenses then, at best, those pointing the fact out were gaining only a moral victory based on a technicality.

Debian developer Josh Triplett disagreed, saying that "while it is OK for someone to distribute GPLed software for Solaris or any other system with GPL-incompatible libraries, it is not OK for someone to distribute GPLed software 'along with' Solaris and those libraries."

According to Triplett, "Compiling GPLed software against a GPL-incompatible libc and other system libraries does not make those libraries derivative works of the GPLed software -- rather, it makes the binary of the GPLed software a derivative work of the GPL-incompatible libc and other system libraries. Such a binary is non-distributable."

"The intent of the GPL is to prohibit derivative works of GPL code from being proprietary, not to prohibit GPL applications from being linked to GPL-incompatible libraries," Murdock said in response to Triplett. "The former is a goal; the latter is a technicality in pursuit of a goal."

Ross admits that Nexenta could have done better in terms of communication, but that Nexenta Systems, the company formed behind the new OS, has done its "due diligence prior to starting work on Nexenta."

"We hope that the common sense will prevail," Ross said. "The claim that one kind of free and open software cannot be distributed with another kind of a free and open software defeats the common sense. It's like saying that 'free' means something else. And the next logical step would be to say that 'peace is war,' and with that get straight into Orwell's 1984."

While Nexenta and Debian iron out their differences, work is continuing on OpenSolaris derivatives and porting pieces of OpenSolaris to other OSes. The most notable development is the porting of DTrace, the Solaris code tracing tool, to FreeBSD by developer Devin O'Dell.

According to his blog, the first milestone of his roadmap has been accomplished, and a binary was released on October 9. O'Dell also said that Sun is supporting his work on FreeBSDTrace by supporting him with hardware on which to continue his development of the software.

The future of open source?

Mike Eisler, a developer for the network storage company Network Appliance, wrote that the OpenSolaris community may well be "the future of open source communities" because of its visibility, organization, and the time and effort Sun is putting into guiding it along.

"I think the bigger point is that because Sun has made so easy to navigate, so easy to participate in, and so open to 'outsiders' ... those 'outsiders' are going to find that they get much more leverage with OpenSolaris than with other open operating systems," Eisler wrote.

"High leverage attracts participation, and the path from participant to contributor can be a slippery slope. Whether this higher leverage translates into increased market share for OpenSolaris versus other open source kernels remains to be seen, but the design and execution of may represent the future of open source communities."

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on Opening Solaris opens door to community, derivative distros

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Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 12:52 AM

Right <a href="" title="">here</a> and

The main loser (so far) as Linux advances is Sun Microsystems, one of the largest server vendors. Its Solaris software is generally deemed to be the most capable flavour of Unix, the family of powerful operating systems used in servers. But for many applications, Solaris is overkill, and Linux, a less capable flavour of Unix, is good enough. Many people who would once have bought expensive Sun boxes running Solaris are now running Linux on cheap, PC-like machines instead. This has forced Sun to embrace the technology that threatens its existence. Last year, Sun launched its first Linux-based server. After several zigzags, it has now decided on its Linux strategy. As well as offering cheap boxes running Linux alongside its more powerful Solaris-based ones, Sun will include its server software with both Linux and Solaris, to make its Linux boxes more attractive and to allow users to trade up to Solaris. Even so,
many in the industry believe that, thanks to Linux, Sun is doomed.

and <a href="" title="">here</a>

Sun engineers, update your resumes, start making phone calls. Your skills are transferable to the Linux community. And you'll be welcomed with open arms. Don't wait for Scott or Jonathan to kick you out onto the street the next quarter when Sun misses its numbers again and needs to satisfy Wall Street on cost cutting. You've seen the job losses over the last couple of years. You've survived so far. But most Sun engineers are very talented, and the not so talented ones have already been kicked onto the street. So there isn't any reason to expect you'll survive the next round of cost cutting.

Sun is doomed. It can no longer touch the top 500 supercomputers. It's still losing customers. It can't fight a worldwide community of developers for Linux. OpenSolaris is too little, too late. And just as with BSD, it doesn't have a chance not because of the code, but because of the license. The GPL is what made Linux what it is today. What allowed Linux to surpass BSD. Surpass Solaris. Surpass AIX. Surpass everything out there. Had Sun GPL's Solaris five years ago, then it might have had a chance. But Sun missed the wave.

Join the wave. Don't be consumed by it. Polish up your resumes, Sun engineers, and start putting out some feelers to the Linux community. You'll be snapped up in no time.

Do it today. Take the next step. Join the juggernaut. Don't get run over by it. Scott and Jonathan are set for life with all their options and golden parachutes. How about you? Do you have a golden parachute from Sun? No? Then do it. Update your resume. Start making some calls. Do it today. Don't wait till you are out on the street. Now's the time. Pick up the phone. We can't do it for you. Don't wait till Sun finishes morphing into SCO. Make the move today. We're waiting for your call.


Re:Sun is DOOMED

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 06:35 AM
Show me the jobs!!! Show me the Internet job board links of these Linux jobs for Solaris engineers and programmers - I don't believe your rhetoric unless you back it up with some proof that these paying jobs really exist. If you tell me exactly who is hiring in the Linux community, then I'll believe you.


Re:Sun is a sinking ship

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 07:36 AM
You're apparently a hobbyist or newbie. For programmers with experience, programmers that can program Unix and/or Linux, you don't need to find a job. Skilled programmers like the ones working or worked (for those laid off due to Wall Street demands and Sun's continuing failure to meet/beat quarterly numbers) for Sun, they simply need to maintain their network of contacts and call the right person when making the decision to move. Who's the right person? Their network will tell them who that is. But for a skilled Sun programmer, finding a job with IBM, Red Hat, Suse, Montevista, or a dozen other Linux companies is no problem. Just attrition alone will have regular openings at IBM due to their huge work force.

The complaint of no jobs is the complaint you hear from someone new trying to break into the programming or admin markets, especially during downturns in the economy. When the tech bubble burst, the ones complaining were the ones with no or limited experience, or the ones that were culled from the herd due to their lower productivity/skills as compared to their fellow workers. When laying off employees, do you lay off your best programmers? Or do you lay off the bottom of the barrel first?

Skilled programmers don't need job listings to find a programming job in the Linux community. They are assets to any company and they know it. They just need to get the timing right. Don't wait for Sun to pull a SCO, when every programmer at Sun will be looking for work at the same time. Make the move now while you still have your future in your control instead of leaving your future in the control of others.

Of course, if you aren't a skilled Sun programmer, aren't a skilled Unix/Linux programmer from another company, then don't bother the Linux community. The Linux community has better things to do than explaining to you how to find a job within the community.

As stated above, Sun programmers, make the move today. Get off the sinking ship. OpenSolaris is just a stopgap. The ship is sinking. GNU/Linux is the juggernaut that can't be stopped. Pick up the phone. Renew your contacts. Make the calls. Take control of your future. Don't wait. Join the wave. Do it today. You'll be glad you did. And so will we. Join us today. What are you waiting for?


Re:Sun is a sinking ship

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 07, 2005 07:42 AM
I used to work for Sun back in the days when things were going great. I can tell you a very small percentage at Sun actually worked on SunOS/Solaris system internals. However, there were a lot of Unix and C people at Sun (at least when I was there) who worked in both systems and application software products. I don't know what it is like there now but I would think the Unix/C people at Sun are a now a small minority. I agree that the transition to Linux is easier for folks who were experts in SunOS/Solaris in the 1990s like me, but there is more to the Linux community than those companies that are directly involved in Linux development. I.T. departments are slowly switching from proprietary Unix to Linux, and I just happened to get my foot in the door at one of these places. Want to know how I got hired? I had previous Solaris experience AND I was a Linux hobbyist. This company was a publishing house that had its legacy stuff on Solaris, but the new application development was on Linux (Red Hat Enterprise Server 9). Therefore, even though I had no professional Linux experience, the Solaris experience got me my first Linux job. It can be done, but not the way you suggested. Recruiters weren't standing by waiting for my phone call. For those brilliant Sun Unix internals developers they might be, but not everyone does that kind of work! For the rest of us who want to break into Linux, it's a different story. Look for the I.T. departments at companies (even non-I.T. companies) that have replaced proprietary Unix with Linux. Think of all those Web servers that used to run Solaris and now run Linux. You don't have to be a kernel hacker to have a career in Linux - I stopped programming in C 10 years ago (I now do PHP/LAMP and Java/J2EE Web development). The impression I get from your post is that the best Sun engineers should be recruited over while the rest of us should just go to hell. You make the Linux community sound like a bunch of snobs! I got into Linux because I have a passion for it. People normally don't go into Linux because it's a good career move. The best and brightest will come voluntarily, but this attitude of being an elite bunch who won't let everyone in is wrong.

Sun is not doomed. SPARC is not doomed either. Proprietary Unix is doomed and will eventually fade away like VAX/VMS. Unix has been fragmented for decades, and Linux has become a viable alternative to the other proprietary *nixes. As an ex-employee of both Sun and IBM, if IBM can come back from near death so can Sun. They have a lot of smart people left (also Andy B. is back), and any company that invented Java can't be all that bad. Companies can do incredible things when the future starts to look bleak; I don't think Sun will become another SCO and litigate its way to pay the bills. Don't write them off just yet. As for the Sun engineers, leaving Sun is an individual choice, whether they leave now or later. I've also worked for companies that tanked. Believe me - they'll know when it is time to call up the headhunters. You don't have to coax them.


Re:Sun is DOOMED

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 09:24 AM
Another side issue is that some of these developers might not want to work on Linux. Linux doesn't have stable ABI or even API constraints like solaris does.

It seems to me that Linux might not be the codebase that people who've worked at Sun would appreciate.

They might also have issue with the fact that linux is a culture of constant redesign and rewrite, generally at the same time. While much of the codebase is stable working release, much of it also seems to be in near permanent beta.

While the Linux kernel already massive resources working on it. It could also be argued that most of those resources are wasted. Linux is a massive achievement, but its not necessarily the foreordained prophecy of the third coming.


Interview with OpenSolaris lead Adam Leventhal

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 01:29 AM
Adam Leventhal, the lead OpenSolaris developer and guy behind DTrace, was recently interviewed on <a href="" title="">LugRadio</a>.


Right moves

Posted by: SarsSmarz on December 06, 2005 05:03 AM
I'm glad Sun is doing this. It's better than hunkering down and milking your client base, a la DEC. As the article said, there may not be any money in this and Sun goes down in a blaze of glory.

My better half does computer systems in hospitals. They have been dying with ms systems that never work. I would hestitate to push them towards Linux, because they are so hopeless at running systems. I would hope to push her software company to do web-based application hosting, and I'm beginning to think of Sun servers again. (Not that anybody listens to me<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)


Sun's Real Problem

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 06, 2005 10:54 AM
Want to know the real problem with Sun? Just try to buy something from them and you'll find out. It is like they just don't want to sell to you.

They have some great products and do some great things, but their interface with potential customers is a mess. It presents a barrier even if you already know what you want and have the money to pay for it.


Here Come the Linux Fanboys...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on December 07, 2005 12:00 AM
Given the choice, I'd rather take the mature, proven Solaris kernel over Linux.


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