A Solaris Carol

Boy, do I hate the holidays. Tacky Christmas decorations strewn over lawns, holiday mind-control music piped into shopping malls, and the last minute need to drive the economy with conspicuous consumption. People are irritable, depressed, and frustrated, and they vent by giving you really horrendous gifts — like the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL, http://www.sun.com/cddl/), a wonderful, new, GPL-incompatible license that Sun Microsystems will use to distribute Solaris as open source.

As I type this, Chanukah has just finished and Christmas is just around around the corner. Sheesh! I can’t wait til it’s over.

Boy, do I hate the holidays. Tacky Christmas decorations strewn over lawns, holiday mind-control music piped into shopping malls, and the last minute need to drive the economy with conspicuous consumption. People are irritable, depressed, and frustrated, and they vent by giving you really horrendous gifts — like the Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL, http://www.sun.com/cddl/), a wonderful, new, GPL-incompatible license that Sun Microsystems will use to distribute Solaris as open source. Dammit! Don’t we have enough of these stupid licenses anyway? All we need is four or five of them, tops!

Another open source license is like fruitcake: nobody wants it, you have to douse it with a lot of alcohol before ingesting some, and even after doing that, you still feel constipated.

Oy, Sun. So much promise and potential, yet so many tragic flaws, kind of like the really talented athlete that can’t help but say really stupid things or is constantly getting into trouble. Sun: the Mike Tyson of the computer industry. Or perhaps the Ricky Williams.

Don’t get me wrong: I really like Sun’s technology, and the company has a lot of talented, intelligent, and energetic people. I really like Sun’s AMD x86 servers, and if the company had its collective head screwed on correctly, Solaris 10 x86 could challenge Linux for mass adoption. Yes, it’s that good. It has compelling technology that no other operating system has, not even Linux.

But mass adoption of Solaris x86 will never happen with Sun’s current plans to release it under the CDDL. See, at the end of the day, it’s all about control. If Sun can’t control its developers and their community, then, like everything else it does, the company wants no part of it.

Why does Sun need to give us yet another restrictive license that is completely incompatible with the GPL? Why can’t we have an “Open Solaris” community that functions just like the OpenOffice.org one does, with an open, circulated version of Solaris, and a Sun “proprietary” version with value-added features — N1 Grid Containers, DTrace, Predictive Self-Healing, and other scalability functions — that can be sold to customers? Instead, Sun releases the whole damn thing under a dog license like the CDDL, ensuring that nothing will ever make its way into other open source projects. Bah!Humbug!

Perhaps it’s just me, but does anyone else find it particularly obnoxious that Sun finds it completely acceptable to embrace GPL technologies like GNOME and Xfree86 in Solaris, while at the same time prevents cross-pollination of Solaris technologies to GPL projects with the CDDL? Sun’s strategy is a one-way street, and the open source community is going to avoid that street like Manhattan taxi drivers avoid 42nd Street during rush hour.

We Jews have a very good word for Sun’s CDDL strategy: chutzpah.

But there are some developers out there doing cool things with Solaris, even if most of the Linux crowd will stay away from it and its CDDL restrictions like last month’s rotten eggnog.

The guys at BlastWave.org, for instance, have ported a ton of GPL software to Solaris, and have assembled it into nice, easy-to-install packages. If you download BlastWave’s pkg-get script, you’ll be able to download and install all sorts of software goodies that you’ve taken for granted on Linux to your Solaris machine. And you can’t get them anywhere else. BlastWave’s got over 900 popular packages all built and ready to go, and you can even buy a DVD from them that renovates the otherwise spartan Solaris 10 into a really kick-ass system, sort of like a Debian on Unix steroids. Wouldn’t it be cool if BlastWave could build a community Solaris distribution out of it all, with all of this stuff working out of the box? Kind of like what the OpenDarwin (http://www.opendarwin.org/) guys have done with the Apple Mac OS X core.

Well, as you’ve probably guessed, it probably won’t happen if Sun has its way with Solaris under the CDDL.

Oh, and by the way, did I mention that BlastWave.org is in financial dire straits because Sun won’t give them any funding or technical assistance? Did I mention that the Toronto-based project director, Dennis Clarke, is over$ 100,000 in the hole from having to support BlastWave’s efforts with his own money and is at risk of losing his home? That’s right, you heard me: Sun won’t even support its own die-hard Solaris fans. So how do they expect to be able to win developer converts from Linux?

Sun, for God’s sake, wake up and smell the coffee, and do an internal reality check before it’s too late. Another Yiddish word comes to mind: farblondget.

Don’t let Tiny Tim die. Even old Ebenezer Scrooge could see the writing on the wall.

Fruitcake, anyone?

Jason Perlow has been “On the Desktop” columnist for Linux Magazine since 2000. You can send email to Jason at class="emailaddress">jperlow@linux-mag.com. No fruitcakes, please.

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