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Sun begins its release of open-source Solaris code

It says full distribution is due by midyear

January 31, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Sun Microsystems Inc. hopes that open-source Solaris will draw in new developers, new users and new growth opportunities. But the initial focus of the initiative may be more prosaic: device drivers.

Drivers aren't sexy technology, but they're often cited by Sun, third-party developers and users as an obvious development target for the open-source effort, which Sun made official last week by releasing a piece of the Solaris code under a royalty-free license.

Brian Conlon, CIO at Howrey Simon Arnold & White LLP, a Washington-based international law firm, sees expanded driver support for peripheral devices as a plus. But Conlon said he isn't sure what else open-source Solaris may bring for users. The Unix operating system's kernel "is such a mature product now that I can't really see what open-source will add to it," he said.

Conlon added that he will withhold judgment on Sun's open-source effort until all the code is released under its Common Development and Distribution License, which is expected around midyear. But, he said, "I would go to open-source Solaris before Linux because of who is behind it."

Getting Started

Ben Rockwood, a systems administrator at Homestead Technologies Inc., an Internet services company in Menlo Park, Calif., said the open-source Solaris code will make his job easier. "Now those of us who are working with Solaris every day on the job can actually access and increase the functionality of the system," he noted.

Rockwood was part of a group of about 60 Solaris users, developers and consultants that Sun organized to provide feedback on the open-source plan and its licensing model. The group will form the nucleus of the new open-source community around Solaris, participants said.

Scott McNealy, Sun's chairman and CEO, said he hopes open-source Solaris will pick up a momentum of its own and help expand interest in the operating system. But he's uncertain about exactly how that will occur. "We just don't know where it will go," McNealy said in a teleconference. "We hope we get surprised."

Solaris may turn up on IBM's Power chip architecture, used in desktop systems as well as servers, according to Dennis Clarke, director of, a not-for-profit group in Cobourg, Ontario, that distributes open-source software for Solaris. "That is the kind of thing that you have every reason to expect to emerge," he said.

Clarke was a member of Sun's advisory group, as was Rich Teer, a Unix consultant in Kelowna, British Columbia, and author of the book Solaris Systems Programming (Prentice Hall, 2004).

Teer said he strongly believes that open-source developers will give Solaris expanded reach. Like any vendor, Sun has finite resources, he said. But if new peripherals emerge that open-source developers think should be supported in Solaris, "there is an opportunity for the community to write their own drivers," Teer said.

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