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Sun's Solaris for hippies to arrive next week

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After years of hype, it looks like Sun Microsystems will finally unveil its open source version of Solaris at an event next week or at least make some new rumblings around the project.

Sun is holding a conference call with reporters and analysts on Jan. 25 to discuss "the company's Solaris open source initiative." Sun will most likely package the core parts of Solaris under its new Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which was approved last week by the Open Source Initiative's (OSI) board. Sun is hoping the open source move will inspire more developer interest around Solaris, particularly its version of the operating system built for chips from Intel and AMD.

The company won't say exactly what will be discussed next week, and a final, open source version of Solaris could still be months away. Insiders, however, indicate that Sun will at least talk about how the CDDL will come into play and how certain parts of Solaris might be governed by the license.

Sun has spent the last couple of years debating the idea of this Solaris for hippies. Its largest customers like the tight controls Sun maintains over the version of Solaris for SPARC processors. This, at times, made the company reluctant to open up Solaris to non-Sun coders. In addition, Sun's legal staff has had a hard time stomaching the idea of an open source OS in the wild.

Sun, however, needed a bold move to spur interest in Solaris x86 and sees the open source model as one way to attract outsiders to its version of Unix.

Developers should think of OpenSolaris as a new distribution of the OS. The CDDL will likely be used to cover the Solaris kernel. Sun will then wrap other licenses around the various packages that plug into the OS. This will let the company protect the millions in research and development its pours into Solaris, while still giving developers a chance to make their own additions.

One source described the new CDDL as an "exemplary copyleft license that is a good, functional replacement for the MPL (Mozilla Public License)."

The OpenSolaris effort is often billed as Sun's attack on Linux. Many Sun insiders, however, are hoping to avoid this discussion, billing OpenSolaris as just a customer-friendly product.

In the most practical of terms, opening up Solaris provides a way for Sun to get advocates of the OS to work for free. There are a number of developers out there writing drivers to help Solaris x86 run on a wide range of hardware. Now they can all rally around the same product and have a peace, love and Solaris call to cheer. ®

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