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Opening Solaris - page 7

The Solaris 10 Pitch

  • September 15, 2005
  • By Martin C. Brown

Many individuals and organizations are beginning to ponder the position of Solaris 10 and particularly OpenSolaris when compared to the other Unix-based FOSS solutions such as the various BSD flavors and Linux distributions.

Expertise and History

Ignoring the specialized and new functionality (Dynamic Tracing, Solaris Service Manager, Containers) offered by Solaris 10 over previous editions for just a moment, it is impossible not to ignore the years of expertise that have gone into the Solaris operating system. As a commercial product for many years--Solaris 2 was originally released in 1992/93, with SunOS 4.x before it arriving in 1989--Solaris is an extremely mature and stable product.

Solaris also has a huge and dedicated following within environments and vertical markets that Linux has only just started to enter. Banks, scientific and engineering organizations have all been using Solaris for decades for everything from desktop workstations to massive data processing and database applications. This level of experience and maturity for an operating system cannot be ignored.

The tradition of stability and experience continues with OpenSolaris. Although many are looking at OpenSolaris as a separate product from Sun, the truth is that OpenSolaris and the commercial Solaris product will be sharing the same source code. The engineers and developers working on Solaris are by default also contributing to the OpenSolaris product.

Licensing

The licensing of OpenSolaris has also been a contentious issue. OpenSolaris was released using a brand new Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). The new license is approved by the Open Source Initiative and enables users to use, reused and distribute software based on the OpenSolaris code. There has been criticism that Sun did not use one of the existing licenses, such as the GPL (GNU Public License), but there are restrictions in these licenses that would have prevented Sun from releasing portions of the Solaris code in tandem with commercial and non-open source compatibility licenses, such as those from OEMs and hardware manufacturers for the supported devices and drivers.

While a new license introduces additional fragmentation into a market already somewhat swamped with different open source licenses, the freedom of the license and the code released under it can hardly be of a detriment to the open source community when compared to the quality of the code made available. What will be harder to swallow for some is the restriction that projects or modifications of the Solaris code must also be released under the CDDL, which requires full source disclosure, even if you release a binary package. There are, however, criticisms of the clauses in the GPL and some users find the GPL equally frustrating. Ultimately how you view the CDDL will depend on what you expect to do with the OpenSolaris code.

Drivers and Environment

Perhaps the largest obstacle that Sun will need to overcome is the issue of the available drivers. One of the strong points of Linux is that years of use by people with a huge range of hardware has led to a massive list of supported devices and drivers. For Sun it has been the needs of its commercial customers that has driven the level of support for devices and as I've already shown the range is understandably narrow because of this.

As noted earlier, it is the support for video and multimedia devices which needs the greatest work if Solaris is going to compete with Linux as a home or workstation solution. The OpenSolaris project will obviously help here by making the operating system and its existing drivers and environment open to a much wider range of people.

The other elements which will need to be addressed is the management and administration of the Solaris system. Although the Solaris Management Console (SMC) does an admirable job of configuring and monitoring the basics a lot could be done to make the process easier. Keeping the system up to date is also an issue that will affect many users. Although there are tools available for updating your system automatically these are currently only provided if you pay for them. The cost is $120 per seat for the basic level, but this is expensive when compared to the free update solutions available for Fedora, Gentoo, Debian, and other distributions.

Although Solaris has always been provided with a strong package management system, so it is not the lack of the management tools. For open source projects, many of the common ones are available ready-built and easily installed from Sun Freeware, but it is still a manual process to find, download and install these components.

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