Sun begins its release of open-source Solaris code

Von Patrick Thibodeau

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 Corp."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.

The first part of the code released under the open-source license is Solaris Dynamic Tracing, or DTrace. DTrace is a new feature in Solaris 10 that lets users examine the interaction of an application with the operating system using live code.

Side bar

Sun increases price of middleware but adds scaled-down versions

Sun Microsystems Inc. this week plans to announce that it"s adding two Java development tools to its Java Enterprise System middleware stack and raising the price of the full suite. But it will also start allowing users to buy smaller and less-expensive sets of JES components targeted at specific business needs.

The price of the full version of JES will increase from an annual fee of US$100 per seat to $140 per seat, an increase that affects only new users. Existing customers will continue to be covered under their current contracts, according to Sun, which said it has sold licenses for about 413,000 JES seats thus far.

Sun is creating five scaled-down JES suites that will cost $50 per seat annually. For instance, the Java Application Platform Suite includes the enterprise edition of Sun"s application server software, plus its Web and portal servers and the Java Studio Enterprise and Creator development tools that the company is adding to JES. Other tailored suites address system availability, communications, identity management and Web infrastructure, Sun said.

John Rymer, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., said that even with the price increase on the full version of JES, Sun"s per-seat pricing is inexpensive compared with the cost of competing products.

But Rymer said the new, smaller suites solve a problem that Sun had with users who were interested only in some JES features. "There are many customers that will view the extras not as goodies but as baggage, so the new packaging basically makes it more convenient for them to buy," he said.

The price increase and the new offerings will be detailed as part of Sun"s quarterly product launch. In justifying the price increase on the full JES bundle, Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java Web services and tools at Sun, said last week that the company is adding in a lot of value with the Java development tools.

-- Patrick Thibodeau