Sun Microsystems has launched its OpenSolaris programme, which provides access to the Solaris operating system via an open source format. The company also announced the release of 1,670 patents to the open source community, making a few sideswipes at IBM iin the process.

The initial piece of Solaris being made available now is DTrace performance analysis technology. Other Solaris source code, such as file system and security technologies, will be offered in the second quarter of this year.

Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy declared Sun as likely the largest donor of code anywhere on the planet.

"We've been doing this open source thing for nearly 24 years now," beginning with the use of the Berkeley Software Distribution derivative of Unix, he said.

"You can use (Solaris) free. Did I say free? I meant free," said McNealy.

Solaris source code and the patents will be made available under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which has been approved by the Open Source Initiative and is based on the Mozilla Public License.

Sun also will form a Community Advisory Board to oversee the evolution of OpenSolaris OS technology and promote community development efforts. Formation is planned for March, with the panel to include two Sun employees, two from the OpenSolaris Pilot community and someone from the open source community.

The company plans to open source as much of Solaris as possible under the CDDL. Some components, such as drivers based on intellectual property from other companies, will be offered only as binary code, according to Sun.

The patent release, which follows IBM's donation of 500 patents last week, pertains to active Sun patents for all aspects of operating systems technologies, ranging from kernel and file system technologies to network management. Users are indemnified in using the patents. "This is real IP and we stand behind it," said John Loiacono, Sun executive vice president of software.

Taking an apparent potshot at IBM without mentioning the rival vendor by name, McNealy stressed the usefulness of the technologies being made available under open source.

"Unlike a lot of companies using open source to dispose of end-of-life code, we have taken Solaris 10, the hottest OS on the planet with the latest and greatest features, and committed that to (open source)," McNealy said.

Developers who modify the Solaris source code must donate the modifications back to the community. But developers who use the code without modifying files may combine it with files from other sources and use it in commercial products without donating it, according to Sun officials.

Sun with its open source moves is looking to reach markets such as entertainment, government, and education, Loiacono said. "We're talking about roughly 10 million lines of code" being made available, he added.

The company will continue to offer the commercial version of Solaris with services and support to meet the needs of enterprise customers, Sun officials said.

An analyst was pleased with the CDDL. "I like the CDDL license," said Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at Burton Group. "No. 1, it gives you a lot more protection than the Apache license."

Additionally, the CDDL lacks the "viral" impact of the GNU Public License (GPL), which requires that anything affected by it also be offered under the GPL, Manes said.

"Sun's license says I can put this thing into a file and anything that's in that file has to be CDDL but anything can use that file," without requiring it be licensed under the CDDL, she said.

Sun officials also stressed the open source initiative is an attempt to broaden the base for Solaris, to boost development on the platform and sell ancillary products, such as software tools. Sun maintains rights to the Solaris trademark.