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Sun to give away Solaris source code

Not via open source, but it's not a trap either

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Sun is planning to tilt rather more in the direction of open source by making Solaris source code free under its community-source licensing scheme. It did this earlier this year for Sparc and Java CPUs, but the plan shouldn't be interpreted as equivalent to the open source model - Sun is trying to build a kind of 'middle way' roadmap for itself. Under community source it'll be possible to get Solaris source code for free, and work with it, provided bugs are reported back to Sun and open interfaces to software developed are provided. So the idea here is that Sun gains the benefit of greater developer support for Solaris, but still retains ultimate control. Developers won't have to pay a licence fee for non-commercial products, but will have to pay if they get revenues from their products. That again is designed to attract developers, because up-front costs are lower, while at the same time retaining a more conventional commercial model. Sun's in-principle decision to make the code available does not however mean it's all going to happen at once. As will be the case with practically all of the companies who didn't follow the open source model from the start, Sun has quantities of other people's IP inside its code, so it can't just give the lot away. It's more likely that it will be released in parts, but in the long term the company still intends to have the whole of Solaris source available. Will the move work? It depends what you think it's intended to achieve. Because Sun isn't going fully open source, and because it's retaining ultimate control, it can't seriously be expecting to make Solaris a credible alternative to existing open source software. But even if it did throw away the whole of the community source licensing plan and really go open source, developers would still be suspicious of what the company was up to. That wouldn't work, and in any event Sun has some justification in being worried about Solaris falling victim to code-forking if it did give up control of it. But if we credit Sun with sufficient intelligence to know it can't hoodwink the open source community into embracing Solaris wholesale, we can postulate a less devious, more helpful and, yes, nicer strategy. Not totally nice, of course, but with possible nice effects, for a while at least. Open source developers at the moment do have a need for non-open source products. Linux works most cost-effectively on cheaper kit, but isn't yet so good at running the most powerful servers. So for larger deployments it often makes sense to mix Linux boxes with Solaris, SCO or even Tru64 ones (which is precisely how Compaq has been explaining its re-jigged Alpha strategy). Quite a lot of open source developers aren't going to need to work with big Solaris or AN Other Unix boxes, but as open source penetrates the enterprise further there will be an increased need for some of them to do so. That doesn't mean they should stop questioning Sun's motivation, but if the cat catches mice... ®

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