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Q&A: Sun's Loiacono on open-source Solaris

By Carol Sliwa, Computerworld
July 09, 2004 06:17 PM ET

Computerworld - Sun will make its Solaris operating system  available under an open-source model by the end of the year, according to John Loiacono, the company's executive vice president of software. Although Loiacono said no decision has been made about the open-source licensing model, he discussed the philosophy behind the move during an interview at the company's recent JavaOne conference.

Why is Sun going to make Solaris available under an open-source model?

 If you talk to CIOs about something like Solaris, you know what they say to me? "Why would you do that? It makes no sense to me." They say, "I want mission-critical, reliable, redundant, available, secure. That's what Solaris brings to me. I want that to continue. Open-source means very little to me."

Conversely, you go talk to the developers in that corporation, and they say, "Oh, this would be great. I can write drivers. I can do innovation. ... I'm a university kid who can't afford to buy stuff. I want to put it on the PC in my dorm room. I can download it and have a quality product vs. something that's got a lot less features and functionality."

So there's a sense of creating the community. This is about how I get more people actually developing software on the platform, because at the end of the day, it's all about applications. It's not about the [operating system] itself. People like Windows because there's a lot of applications running on it. People are liking Mac more because there's a lot of applications on it. They like Linux because there's a growing number of applications on it.

The reason we're doing this on the whole is because we're trying to create relevance in the fact that there's more people finding Solaris and being more able to use and modify and actually develop on top of Solaris. And that isn't just about the (people) that we sell to. It's about creating the community of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people who actually want to then go innovate on top of the code we give them access to.

Will moving to open-source allow Sun to decrease its Solaris development staff?

There's not going to be a huge decrease. ... The CIOs say, "My biggest worry about open-source is all the problems that things like Linux give me. ... What I want is your QA tests and all the rigidity you put behind a Solaris release." And my point to them is, absolutely. What we'll do tomorrow -- whether it's open-source, or no matter what licensing model it is -- you will get Solaris with all its QA, its tests, its hardening, all its security that you have today. All those resources required to do that, we will maintain.

In addition to innovation for things like container technology or fault recovery or dynamic tracing that I'm adding as new features in Solaris, I anticipate now that I'll have tens of thousands of people saying, "Here's an innovation on top of that." So could I get even more features built in, or could I over time reduce my cost of production? Yeah, absolutely -- as long as I'm doing the QA and test cycle on what I call Solaris versus the open version of Solaris, which is probably called something slightly different, just to make sure people understand there are differences between the two.

Will there be two versions of Solaris?

No. We will release the same version. But one will be open-source, no support. And one will be the one that we ship to Merrill Lynch.

Are you leaning toward a specific open-source licensing model at this point?

We have some internal debates on what we think will be the most optimal. There are several to pick from. ... There isn't one hammer for every nail. To pick one licensing model and say that's going to be for everything, (the decision) may be (made) by technology, and it may be by user type.

Is it possible you'll take an approach similar to what IBM did with Eclipse?

Possible. You should also look at what Red Hat has done with Linux.

Any other models look appealing?

I've got to be careful, because they do bring different things to the table. You have things like the Apache model, which gives you some of the branding rights. You have MySQL, which has some of the branding rights. You have the Mozilla license, which is a very popular license model. You have the CPL (Common Public License), which gives you some flexibility in different areas. And you obviously have GPL (General Public License) and LGPL (Lesser GPL). Then we even have our Sun public license, something we call the SISL, the Sun Industry Standard License.

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