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Sun tries to flex R&D muscle with homegrown package manager

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By the end of this month Sun Microsystems will release the first developer version of OpenSolaris in its "Project Indiana" incarnation.

Up to this point, customers have had to work for Sun's open source Unix operating system by being forced to download the code and then build the OS. With Project Indiana, Sun wants to dish out an easily installable OS and turn around updates of the software every few months – in a Fedora-like fashion. Sun would also like to show off some of its engineering muscle in the process, which is where one of Project Indiana's first major features comes in.

The October developer release will include Sun's Image Package System (IPS). (The name may change by the time Sun issues a proper Project Indiana release in March.) IPS serves as Sun's homegrown answer to the software package managers common on Linux systems. IPS will tap into Sun servers and then present users with various pieces of software than can run on OpenSolaris. It will also handle the installation of that software.

Sun, however, thinks it's going past today's Linux package managers by having IPS tap into fancy bits of Solaris. For example, IPS can use Sun's ZFS file system to let users rollback to a previous version of the operating system if an upgrade goes wrong.

A developer site details some additional features expected with IPS - "The image packaging system, is an attempt to design and implement a software delivery system with interaction with a network repository as its primary design goal. Other key ideas are: safe execution for zones and other installation contexts, use of ZFS for efficiency and rollback, preventing the introduction of incorrect or incomplete packages, and efficient use of bandwidth."

The IPS revelations came this week courtesy of Sun's chief OS strategist Ian Murdock – of Debian fame – who was speaking at an Open Summit held at the company's asylum (read the book) in Santa Clara.

It seems tough to get too excited about a package manager, and we wonder why it took Murdock's arrival to push something like Project Indiana. Shouldn't Sun be able to think up things like this at a quicker clip? Well, yes.

What, after all, is the point of crafting something meant to compete with Linux if you're not going to make it easy to download and install.

Murdock responded that it takes time to build a new culture around an operating system. He told us this is about altering the internal decision making process and then moving that "out to the community as well."

So there you have it. ®

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