Dark Days Ahead For OpenSolaris

Nearly a month after the latest revision of the OpenSolaris operating system was to be released, the people awaiting it are asking what exactly it is that Oracle is doing. Nerves are on edge and many are losing interest in a fight. Some are switching rather than fighting, to a Linux distribution, or perhaps a BSD variant. Others are using another “F” word.

It is a four letter word, but you can say it in polite company. The word is fork – meaning that the current code would be taken and no direct correlation would ever be worried about between Solaris and OpenSolaris again. In effect, it becomes something else entirely, like two animals with a common ancestor.

Oracle is the entity that will cause this, and right now, the no-news attitude is not good news. People are upset, and wondering why Oracle is doing this after certain promises were made.

From a story on ComputerWorld Thursday, we have a few details, and not much in the way of solid evidence that the outcome will be a good one.

Frustrated by Oracle‘s delay in releasing the latest version of OpenSolaris, the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB) is growing uneasy over Oracle’s lack of communication regarding the future of the Unix OS code.

At least two members of the board have even used the divisive “F” word, saying that they would be open to forking the code base from the Oracle version.

The latest version of OpenSolaris OS, version 2010.03, was set to be released on March 26. As of almost a month later, it has yet to appear. And OGB, hounded by OpenSolaris users, can’t get information from Oracle as to when it will be released.

“It is sad to watch people asking about some OpenSolaris … release called 2010.03 when we are well into April now,” wrote board member Dennis Clarke.

While the volunteer-led OGB organizes efforts to develop code for OpenSolaris distributions,

Sun Microsystems retained the trademark ownership of the name OpenSolaris itself. Oracle, which finalized its acquisition of Sun in January, makes the final decisions as what to include in the code base of its official distribution (though the code base can be reused at any time as the basis for other distributions).

Since January, company officials have appeared, at least to some to be ambivalent about OpenSolaris, even as it has boosted support for its paid version of the Unix OS, Solaris. For instance, earlier this month, the company ceased offering free OpenSolaris install CDs, although the distribution can still be downloaded.

This change in management style has made some OpenSolaris users jumpy. In his e-mail message Clarke expressed a willingness to fork the code, as did Schilling. “We [should] not ignore the current situation and thus be prepared to fork in case this is needed,” board member Joerg Schilling wrote.

Several other members of the list, who were not board members, quickly showed enthusiasm for the idea as well.

“If Oracle is NOT going to keep developing OpenSolaris as an open source project … a fork might be the only solution for people who care,” wrote a developer on the mailing list.

Overall, the board members urged a more cautious approach, however.

Establishing regular contact with the Oracle would be a first step, Schilling said. OGB has no official contact within Oracle, and only one of the board members, Teresa Giacomini, works for Oracle, and not in a role related to Solaris.

“We don’t even know whom to talk with,” admitted Schilling.

Board member Simon Phipps noted that “the time to fork hasn’t arrived yet” and seconded another poster’s point that it wouldn’t be a good idea to fork the code base given that Oracle still does much of the development work, and provides the supporting community Web sites.

Phipps also noted that the company may not have formulated its plan for OpenSource, which given the load on Oracle head Larry Ellison’s agenda these days, is quite understandable.

In an e-mail to IDG News Service, Phipps noted that Oracle has a different, more controlling, style of communicating with the open source world, compared to Sun’s more open approach. This certainly can be seen in Oracle’s approach with MySQL as well.

“Given Oracle’s style, I have seen no concrete triggers for concern yet,” Phipps wrote, in the e-mail to IDG.

Oracle did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

While the rabid may do alright with a non-Oracle sponsored version, in the real world, things like this rarely do well, as people lose focus, and interest. I am reminded of the Darwin project, which promised to bring OS X to the X86 architecture (back when for the Mac  it was on Power PC) and for everyone, with no strings attached. I think we know where that went…

Even if Oracle ends up being a good guy in this, and continues support, the lack of response, and letting users twist in the wind will not endear the company to many. Oracle is large, and Mr. Ellison may think that this style of managing the project is acceptable, but many will find that for them it is not, and move elsewhere.

I have been interested in OpenSolaris, though I have not done much with it because of time constraints. However, if I see that the project forks, or that Oracle leaves it as a semi-nebulous project, with no clear lines of communication, I could easily go back to FreeBSD. It is also a “real” Unix, and, as far as I can tell, that is what has attracted many to OpenSolaris.


Server room perhaps the only places we will find anything related to Solaris soon…

Opera, the fastest and most secure web browser


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