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Sun Microsystems continues to toy with Solaris fans' emotions - announcing this week that it will only open source one component of the operating system at this time.

Sun has decided to ship the DTrace package - profiled in detail here - under its new Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). The license, cutely called 'Cuddle' by Sun executives, was approved two weeks ago by the Open Source Initiative's (OSI) board and is seen as a revamped version of the Mozilla Public License (MPL). Sun will not open up all of Solaris under CDDL until the second quarter of this year. Sigh.

Sun on Tuesday will hold a conference call with reporters and analysts to discuss its moves. This call prompted some speculation that Sun would go ahead and open up Solaris 10 in full. Why the delay?

"It is purely because of technical reasons," said Glen Weinberg, a vice president at Sun. "We're going through the code, making sure it has all the right copyright notices. Basically, it's just a lot of really boring grunt work that my core engineers are having to struggle through right now."

Contrary to what some pundits expected, Sun will truly open source Solaris in a big way. It is not going to wrap more restrictive licenses around packages developed by its research and development teams. The only software in Solaris that won't be covered by CDDL will be third-party device drivers that Sun doesn't control.

Sun pours millions into Solaris development but isn't terribly concerned about HP or IBM taking packages such as DTrace and building them into their own versions of Unix. Instead, Sun is hoping the open source move will inspire developer interest in its operating system.

"We have a growing subset of customers that demand software be open source," Weinberg said. "It's one of the checklist items they have in contracts if you want to be involved with them."

Sun already has a small but devoted base of coders working on its version of Solaris for servers that run on chips from Intel and AMD. These developers have been calling for an open source edition of Solaris x86 for a very long time. They will likely help Sun write drivers for the vast set of x86 hardware on the market. In addition, Sun expects OpenSolaris could create new markets for its software.

"Someone could take some of this technology and build a great new market that no one has ever thought of before," Weinberg said. "We don't know what directions those things will go, but there is one example already of a pilot where Solaris has been ported to another chip architecture."

Solaris on IBM's Power, anyone?

Sun is making the right moves with the code. It will have the exact same code base between its standard Solaris OS and OpenSolaris, and both versions of the OS will be available for free. Free is the right price, if you're trying to attract new customers to an OS they would otherwise ignore.

In the long run, Sun is hoping that OpenSolaris will open up sales of its enterprise software and servers. Customers could, for example, buy a Dell box, put Solaris on it and then turn to Sun for its Java Enterprise System (JES) software stack. Sun would then be able to chat up the customer about future hardware and services deals.

Still, Sun has been talking about the prospect of OpenSolaris for so long that the software has a very anti-climactic feeling surrounding it. Will new customers or open source fans flock to the OS? Or will it become an uninteresting sideshow?

Sun's OpenSolaris.org web site should go live this week. ®

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