Dennis Clarke once collected cars, but gave it all up for open-source Solaris. A year ago, he took US$13,000 in exchange for the last of his collection -- a red 1989 Corvette -- to pay for bandwidth on the Web site he maintains, Blastwave.org, which is dedicated to providing open-source applications for Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system.
Today, a small group of Solaris true believers, including Clarke, will have their moment in the spotlight, as Sun finally releases the DTrace performance analysis software, the first component of OpenSolaris, the open-source version of its Unix operating system. As part of the announcement, Sun is expected to unveil a new community portal for Solaris developers, called Opensolaris.org, which is slated to be the home of the emerging open-source Solaris community.
Critics call OpenSolaris a late and cynical attempt to emulate the success of Linux, but for other true believers like Ben Rockwood, a system administrator for a Menlo Park, California, Internet company, argue that Sun is, in fact, building on an already large and under-recognised open source community. Rockwood asked that his company not be named.
Many of the most popular pieces of open-source software were either written for Solaris or quickly ported to Sun's operating system, Rockwood said. "The whole Net is rooted in Sun and open source. Everything associated with open source just got tagged Linux, whether it's GNOME or KDE Apache," he added, referring to popular open-source projects.
Rockwood should know what he's talking about. He is one of the developers of the Enlightenment graphical user interface software that is commonly associated with Linux. According to him, critics who say that Sun will be starting from scratch with OpenSolaris have overlooked the fact that there is already a large number of Solaris users like him, who are already active participants in the open-source world.
"Everyone thinks, 'How is Sun going to build a community?' But there is a community," he said. "We're here."
Since September 2004, Sun has quietly nurtured this community, gathering a small but influential group of Solaris enthusiasts like Clarke and Rockwood into an "OpenSolaris pilot" project designed to give developers early access to the Solaris source code and gain valuable community feedback on how to involve its users directly in Solaris development.
Pilot programme members have had access not only to the Solaris source code, but also to Sun engineers who understand how to compile the Solaris source code into binary, machine-readable files that can run on a computer -- procedures that were never designed for the kind of widespread use that Sun hopes to see with OpenSolaris.
By working with pilot programme members, Sun has been able to get feedback on how to make the process of compiling Solaris code easier for outsiders, but it has also created an initial wave of experts who can now help other users build and develop their own versions of OpenSolaris.
"In effect, they have seeded this whole community of developers who will understand how it works," said Rockwell.
To date, Sun enrolled nearly 75 participants in the pilot program and while Tuesday's launch of OpenSolaris.org will open up the community to the world, Sun is expected to continue adding members to the pilot program until the complete Solaris source code is released -- an event that is expected to happen this quarter, according to Sun's Chief Executive Officer, Scott McNealy.
OpenSolaris pilot participants will also have a say in developing a governance model for the project. Like the Java Community Process, this governance model will specify exactly how software contributions are evaluated and accepted into the OpenSolaris code base. Sun is expected to begin public discussion of the governance model sometime after Tuesday's announcement, pilot members say.
In the meantime, the first glimmerings of community development are beginning to appear around OpenSolaris. A small European computer vendor, Genesi S.a.r.l., sponsored a port of Solaris to IBM's PowerPC processor. Also on Tuesday Clarke will go live with a new Web site, Blastware.org, which will eventually be the home of an OpenSolaris distribution that he hopes to develop in conjunction with other open source developers, including the developers of the Gentoo Linux distribution.
More ambitious in scope than the Blastwave.org application site, Blastware is intended to be the home of a standard OpenSolaris distribution that would not only include the Blastwave applications, but also core operating system components and Gentoo's Portage software update system.
Gentoo developer Pieter van den Abeele says that the Gentoo project is waiting until Sun specifies the open-source software licence it plans to use for OpenSolaris before making any commitments, but several Gentoo participants, including van den Abeele, already joined the OpenSolaris pilot.
"We are considering supporting OpenSolaris as soon as Sun commits to an OSI- (Open Source initiative) compliant licence," van den Abeele said via e-mail. "We do see a market for Gentoo/OpenSolaris."
On Tuesday, Sun plans to announce that it is releasing DTrace under an OSI-compliant licence called the CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License), according to sources familiar with Sun's plans. Similar to the licence used by the Firefox browser, Sun wrote the CDDL and an engineer working on the OpenSolaris project submitted it for OSI approval last month.
Though Tuesday's release will be an exciting day for pilot programme participants, the fact that Sun will be releasing so little of the Solaris source code has created an undertone of anxiety amongst those involved in the project, who worry about OpenSolaris being over-hyped.
Still, despite the fact that Sun is releasing only one component of the operating system, the OpenSolaris true believers say Sun is now fully committed to supporting an open source Unix, and that the sceptics will eventually change their tune.
"People are going to have high expectations for Tuesday," said Blastwave's Clarke. "I think what people should keep in mind is that a door that has been closed and proprietary for a very long time is going to be to be open, and that door will continue to be opened over time."
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