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The Year in Operating Systems: No battle of big ideas

Small change for 2009

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(Open)Solaris

The other big Unix, of course, is Sun's Solaris and OpenSolaris pairing. And the big news for Sun was, of course, getting the first and then a second release of OpenSolaris out the door based on the code created and maintained by the OpenSolaris community.

Unlike IBM and HP, Sun has open sourced its Solaris Unix and is trying to emulate the development and support style of the Linux community. To be specific, OpenSolaris is most like Canonical's Ubuntu in that customers can buy tech support for the development as well as commercial releases. Canonical, incidentally makes no distinction at all, and it is likely Sun will just have something called OpenSolaris 2009 at some point and be done with it.

Like the Linux distros, Sun is trying to make it easier for companies to spin their stacks of the operating system, middleware, and application software and then distribute these across the servers in their networks.

Sun's business plan is to make Solaris as easy, open, and modern - meaning updated on a six-month cycle - as a development Linux with the full support you can get from a commercial Unix or Linux distro.

While Sun distributed millions of freebie copies of Solaris 10 and now OpenSolaris, it remains to be seen whether the change from a closed-source, fee-based to an open-source operating system paid for using support contracts will pan out. It is not clear whether the change will not only protect the $1 billion-plus in Solaris licensing and support revenue, but also extend it and - here's the kicker - extend it profitably.

On the technology front, Solaris (whether it is open or compiled) is still well-regarded, and Sun tried to make lots of different kinds of hay out of the pairing of Solaris with its Zettabyte File System (ZFS).

ZFS has been given root file system status in Solaris now - an indication that Sun believes ZFS is absolutely ready for prime time - and Sun plus a handful of other storage makers spent their time creating solutions that pair Solaris and ZFS to make storage devices. This business, though, still does not yet contribute enough in terms of sales to Sun to make up for declining prices on midrange and large Unix iron and a shift away from Sparc to x64 processors from Intel and AMD by some of Sun's customers.

Given its customer base, its technology portfolio, and the nature of the systems market today, it is hard to imagine Sun coming up with a better strategy than it did.

The kinds of things Sun is doing with its operating system - supporting x64 iron enthusiastically, using a Linux-style development, distro, and support model, and such - are the correct things. However, Sun needed to do these things a decade ago as the Linux genie was coming out of the bottle. Linux doesn't fit into that bottle any more, and the real question you have to ask is this: will Linux stuff Solaris into that bottle?

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