OpenSolaris from Free Software point of view

Software Libre — Антон Марчуков @ 11.03.06 22:49

This is my review on what I got on Open Solaris Russia forum held in Saint-Petersburg yesterday.

Rather long time ago, Sun Microsystems decided to open a source code of their operation system Solaris 10. For that purpose, Sun introduced a new Open Source license called CDDL. The resulted project got the name OpenSolaris and that’s what we have now.

The forum was divided in two parts. The one before coffee-break was mainly about idealogical topics, and the one after was oriented to Solaris advantages. Let’s light up the most sensitive part about licenses and ideology. The view stated here is mine, I’m just expressing here what I’ve got after listening that guys. This all is certainly subjective, partially it’s not Sun’s official point of view and may or may not be true, but who cares.

Why Solaris is open and for whom?

The idea behind OpenSolaris is simple and not new. The open fork of Solaris OS will be developed independently by volunteers. Sun itself may or may not bother with the development process. Sun will continue selling commercial Solaris and will be developing new versions based on Open Solaris. This is a brilliant idea of using the human power for free with no return. The same thing now happening with *BSD projects and it’s very difficult to judge here. It’s just the way it works and that’s what we have.

What do Sun provide for free? What do we have now?

Not everything from Solaris 10 were opened. There is a list somewhere on the net with parts of Solaris that are not open yet. Answering the question about whether Sun is going to open it, the guy told that not everything will be opened, cause some parts are not necessary, some will end their life soon and others will be opened at future. I understand that it’s sometimes difficult to open something due to copyright and patent issues, but, later it’s cleared that e.g. ATA driver is not yet open (it’s a credit that it will), is it not open due future end of life or it’s just not needed? ;-)

Along with partial sources, sun also provides the tool for building it for free. Like anyone attended, I also have 3 CDs with Sun Studio 11. Those are a compiler for C, C++ and Fortran languages, debugger, profilers, IDE and GUI designer. As it cleared in the comments, Sun Studio 11 is free for any use. Good sign, free development tools for particular OS will certainly lead to more contributions and code base spread.

The motivation for such kindness is definite. Solaris just won’t build with other compiler and if Sun Studio was not given for free, not so many people would buy the tool for OpenSolaris development. Sun needs a lot of unpaid contributors and, so, it gave the tool for free, but just for the task. OpenSolaris team has a plan to make OpenSolaris build with some other modern compilers like GCC, but it’s in the future.

What rights do I have? CDDL license.

For the talk on Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) sun invited a very cute girl – their lawyer. The main idea of that yummy’s talk was “GPL sucks, CDDL rules”, because we cannot base our commercial products on GPL software without returning our work back to community by opening the code, but with CDDL we can do it. CDDL requires opening back only modified adopted CDDL sources, all other meat that do the work relying on CDDL sources may not be open. GPL sucks for commercial people, because it’s viral, our license viral effect less and usefull for developers (what’s the bullshit?) and “CDDL is true open source license” (the quote from their presentation. Their notebook runs windows with OpenOffice on it. Why not Solaris?).

Of cause, after such a talk a lot of questions were asked, examples of success commercial use of GPL software were provided, etc. But, the cute refused to answer any questions, when insisted, she answered undefined and pointed that all the questions should be directed to e-mail: I believe a lot of people (me included) came there just for debating on CDDL license, but, it seems that debating is possible only with /dev/null on

Case Study

The most usefull talk on the full forum was the one by Jet Infosystems’ developer Maxim Patlasov. His company deploys VPN solutions on Solaris operation system (not OpenSolaris). Their idea for solutions is to have them appliance. They deploy Solaris OS and the software on small PCs with ATA compact flash disks and thus it’s very reliable.

He told about the problems they had deploying such a system on Solaris. Compact Flash is a plain ATA device with some extensions, but fully ATA compatible. So, properly connected to IDE bus, the card may work just like hard disk does. For e.x., I have nice connectors from Open Hardware project that allow me to connect a compact flash card to IDE port and use the card like HDD on my Linux box, that’s brilliant.

But, it’s not so brilliant on Solaris. Although CF is ATA, it’s not a HDD, it has some identifiers pointing that it’s a CF and that it’s a removable device, Solaris doesn’t understand those IDs and gets stuck when CF connected to ATA. For solving this problem, the company bought Solaris 8 source code. The fix to ATA driver is just 3 lines of code, after applying the patch, Solaris got know CF IDs and anything other is not different from HDD from the driver’s point of view.

After investigating and fixing the problem, Maxim contacted Sun developers, told them about the problem and asked whether they can fix it in the main Solaris distribution. The answer he got was not unexpected. Sun refused to fix it (the typical problem with a big corporation and a little user).

The question arose about possibility of contribution to OpenSolaris. But, they cant do it now, ATA driver is not open yet. Also, they showed unwillingness to contribute under CDDL (this doesn’t mean that he is willing to contribute under GPL license, basically after several leading questions, Maxim told that it’s ok to contribute some components under CDDL), but the same time they are willing to use CDDL code in their commercial solutions (why not? Using CDDL code you should not return much, it’s free as in beer, not as in freedom).

Unlike Sun’s cute lawlayer, Maxim did answer the questions. And the final one was: “Do you think that GPLed Linux is better for deploying such solutions” and the answer was “Yes, I think so”. It’s hard to find another good prove of concept for Sun’s policy than this one.


Sun was and would be a strange company. OpenSolaris is certainly a good thing and some people will make use of it. But, we should keep in mind, it’s just open, it’s not free in sense of freedom, but it’s free in sense of beer. Everybody can choose which freedom he needs.

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