Friday, March 21, 2008

Solaris Wish List: Make it Open Source

I frequently see references from Sun and those that quote some Sun people as saying that Solaris is Open Source.

What is Solaris?

There are a few different flavors of things that people may refer to as Solaris:

  • Solaris 10 and earlier versions. This is what most references to the word Solaris seem to be referring to. Each release of Solaris is supported for a number of years through commercial and no-cost channels, to varying degrees.
  • Solaris Express. This is a collection of software that is viewed as a fairly stable distribution based upon the development branch of Solaris. Very limited ("installation and configuration as well as for developer assistance") is available, but the support period seems to be limited to around 3 months per release.
  • OpenSolaris. This is best summarized as "The main difference between the OpenSolaris project and the Solaris Operating System is that the OpenSolaris project does not provide an end-user product or complete distribution. Instead it is an open source code base, build tools necessary for developing with the code, and an infrastructure for communicating and sharing related information. Support for the code will be provided by the community; Sun offers no formal support for the OpenSolaris product in either source or binary form."

What is Open Source?

The annotated Open Source Definition covers this quite well.

Is Solaris Open Source?

Let's see if the license used by Solaris aligns with the Open Source definition.

Free redistributionNo. The Software License Agreement states: You may make a single archival copy of Software, but otherwise may not copy, modify, or distribute Software.
Source CodeNo. The source code for Solaris is not available. Note that while a bunch of code is available at, this is not the same source code that is used for building Solaris. If I want or need to modify the behavior of Solaris, there is no straight-forward way to do so.
Derived WorksNo. Since I may not copy, modify, or distribute Solaris, this point is moot.
Integrity of Author's Source CodeNo. Since the source code is not available, this point is also moot.
No Discrimination Against Persons or GroupsI think so. See section 11 of the license agreement for export restrictions.
No Discrimination Against Fields of EndeavorI think so. While Sun's lawyers don't want to suggest that running your nuclear power plant with Solaris, they don't say that you can't.
Distribution of licenseNo. Since redistribution is not allowed, this point is moot.

Since one or more of the requirements to be called Open Source are not met by the license under which Solaris is distributed, Solaris is not open source.

People that need support don't want source code.

That is great in theory, but in practice it falls down a bit. Let's pretend that you need to write a dtrace script to dig into a thorny performance problem. If the stable dtrace providers don't provide probes at the right spot, you need to fall back on fbt or pid probes. The only way to understand what these are tracing is to read the source. Since the OpenSolaris and Solaris branch point is now about 3 years old, this is becoming extremely difficult to do reliably. The code that you get by browsing the latest OpenSolaris code sometimes does not match up with the fbt probes that are available in any release of Solaris. You may have more luck looking at historical versions of the source code, but that is a guessing game at best.

There are also times when a customer's needs just do not align with what Sun is willing to offer. Suppose you need different functionality from a device driver. It is possible that it is a trivial change from the customer's standpoint, so long as they have current source code. However, if the source code is not available, the best the customer can do is grab the same driver from somewhere else (e.g. and try to to maintain a special version of the driver and provide custom ports of all the bug fixes that they would otherwise get from from the Solaris source.

Suppose that hypothetical fix that the customer needed was something that Sun agreed was needed but they did not have the time to develop the fix. If the Solaris source code were as open as the OpenSolaris source code, the customer could work with the OpenSolaris community to get the fix integrated into OpenSolaris, then provide the backport to Solaris. If the customer could do this, the code would see the appropriate code reviews, development branch burn-in, etc. with minimal additional workload on Sun.

My Wish

I know that Sun went through tremendous work to make OpenSolaris happen. They should be commended for that and the other tens (hundreds?) of millions of lines of code they have opened up or written from scratch in the open. This gives them tremendous opportunity with Solaris 11 (assuming that 10+1 = 11). Keep the code that is open, well, open. When patches or other updates are released, be sure that it is clear in the open source code repository which files are used in building that update. To get the full benefit of this, it should be possible for the Solaris customer to set up a build environment to build this source.

It is OK if Sun doesn't want to support the code I modify. However, I would expect that they would support the unmodified parts of Solaris much the same as they do if I install a third-party package that adds some device drivers and mucks with some files in /etc.


Anonymous said...

If you need an open source distro, you should be looking at BeleniX, Indiana, Nexenta, Schillix, etc.
Solaris is proprietary, opensolaris is not.

Mike Gerdts said...


I get that. Unfortunately I'm not aware of too many Tier 1 ISV's that support BeleniX et. al. In contrast, Sun's Open Source competition (Red Hat, SuSE, and now even Ubuntu) have significant ISV support. I'm pretty sure that only Nexenta and Indiana (OpenSolaris 2008.05) have any form of commercial support available.

I am encouraged by the fact that support - beyond just installation support - seems to be available with the OpenSolaris 2008.05 release. The life of that support is still pretty short (18 months IIRC) as most ISV's ignore a new OS release for the first 6 - 18 months that it is available.

If all that I needed was included in the OS and I (or rather the company I work for at the particular time) could get support, an OpenSolaris derived distro would do just fine.

Anonymous said...

When do you expect Sun to release Solaris 10 Update 6?

I have seen S10U6 mentioned here and there online, but no definite mentioning of when it is to be released.

Mike Gerdts said...

marlonwt - I don't have any special knowledge of the S10u6 release time, but my guess is that it will be sometime around October.