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The next year will be a critical time for OpenSolaris, according to Ian Murdock, the founder of Debian brought in by Sun Microsystems last year to lead its OS operation.

Success will be measured by the creation of complementary software packages that extend the usefulness of OpenSolaris, and the ability to tempt developers into not only using OpenSolaris but also building packages. OpenSolaris was delivered as a Sun-supported product at May's JavaOne with 1,000 packages spanning Apache, MySQL, Gnome desktop and Firefox.

(You can scope our review of OpenSolaris here. It covers Sun's package woes in detail.)

"The next big step is building out the packaged ecosystem around it," Sun's vice president of developer and community marketing told The Register during a recent interview.

Murdock believes Sun's support for OpenSolaris at an engineering level will help make room for "community" code. That's in contrast to his earlier Debian project. Today it boasts 20,000 packages but when it debuted 15 years ago it had just "a few hundred". Packages emerged over the years, without too much central planning.

"Debian was grassroots but it was the by-product of users solving their own problems and then sharing," Murdock said. "We'll [Sun] be able to boostrap OpenSolaris more than we could Debian."

According to Murdock, Sun can nail down the core with open source developers coalescing on the outside adding extra code. That's a bit different to Debian, where all and sundry contributed and there was no single core provider. Areas for Sun's work include binary compatibility and device driver interfaces, Murdock believes.

"The core OpenSolaris platform is largely a Sun project... look at the names of contributors - it's Sun-badged employees. The right place to build community is at the edge," he said.

Sun's patronage is clearly a double-edged sword. It denies OpenSolaris any claim to being a genuine community project, like Debian, or that it's independent. The direct connection to Sun has bred suspicions over the company's support for open source software that does not originate from Sun.

Not helping its case is the fact Sun put OpenSolaris under its own license - Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). Sun joins a league of other vendors including Microsoft who have written their own licenses rather than use existing open-source licenses. Debian, by contrast, got to its position in the industry using a spread of different, and existing, licenses. Another complication is the Sun-domination of the OpenSolaris work.

Murdock defended the corporate connection to OpenSolaris, pointing to Fedora's association with Red Hat and Ubuntu's connection to Canonical.

"In many cases Sun has a bad rap in the open source community because of bad decisions Sun did 10 yeas ago - the fact Sun did not immediately embrace Linux," Murdock said.

That's all over now, apparently. "We are doing open source at a scale that has never been done," he said. "One of these days the message will sink in that these guys are serious about this."®

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