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Sun coughs up an OpenSolaris kernel

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The Sun Microsystems OpenSolaris endurance test reached a critical stage today, as the operating system's kernel and networking stack were turned over to developers.

Solaris fans can now examine and play with more than 5m lines of code - mostly the stuff at the heart of the OS. This code dump follows the release in January of the highly-regarded DTrace tool for improving system performance under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). The new code, also released under the CDDL, is now available on the OpenSolaris web site.

"This, as you can imagine, is a very big day for us at Sun Microsystems and particularly so for those of us in the Solaris community," said Sun VP Tom Goguen, during a conference call.

This exciting day has been a longtime coming.

Sun first introduced the idea of an open source version of Solaris way back in 2000 and then waffled back and forth over the next couple of years as to how good of an idea such a product would be. Then, last year almost to the day, Sun's president Jonathan Schwartz confirmed that Sun would indeed go the open source route in some way, shape or form.

Since Schwartz made that pronouncement, Sun executives have said again and again that the company "has open sourced Solaris" even though it still really hasn't. The 5m lines of code released today do contain the key kernel and networking components, but they make up just half of the OS's total code, which includes a number of packages already under open source licenses.

Over the next six months, Sun plans to release more networking tools, storage drivers, developer tools, test suites and compilers. A detailed roadmap is available here.

Sun keeps saying that OpenSolaris is not a ploy to get free development work done on Solaris and that it's not a response to Red Hat. This has left many wondering exactly what question the OS answers.

The whole OpenSolaris effort is an obvious attempt by Sun to keep interest high in its operating system by breathing new life into software. Sun's immediate future hinges on maintaining as many Solaris/Sparc customers as possible, while its long-term goals will be best served by new users picking up Solaris over Linux and Windows on x86 systems. For that to happen, Sun needs an open, strong developer community that takes pride or at least has interest in the OS.

To its credit, Sun has been far more, well, open with regard to OpenSolaris than many once expected. Pundits imagined Sun would let developers peek at the Solaris code and send work back to the company but not really give them many other freedoms. That, however, hasn't been the case as CDDL is a decently liberal license, especially for a company that bases its existence on R&D.

There are many Sun/Unix supporters who would love to see OpenSolaris take off and become a major force in the x86 server market. Sun proponents argue that Solaris is a much more mature, higher-end operating system than Linux.

The length of time needed for Sun to roll out a substantial chunk of Solaris under CDDL proves that large companies just can't turn on a dime - no matter how much they'd like to. At the same time, it proves companies can turn. Sun needs a lift right now and OpenSolaris could well fuel part of a larger morale and revenue boost. ®

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