Solaris Is Dead. Long Live Linux.

Hot on the heels of acquiring Sun, Oracle has changed the license for Solaris making it non-free once again. In a time like this, such a move can only be fatal and of course ultimately beneficial to Linux.

We are all waiting to see just exactly what Oracle will do with the late Sun’s assets. Now we are starting to see some of the picture loud and clear.

Linux has certainly revolutionized the computer industry. What was once the domain of expensive, proprietary Unix systems now belongs to our favorite operating system. With big players like IBM making the decision to support Linux, it has effectively killed off its proprietary competition. Google’s entire network runs on Linux, as does the majority of the Internet.

In the year 2000, Linux accounted for little over 5% of the world’s super computers. Who had majority market share? Proprietary Unix at 90%.

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Less than a decade later those numbers are completely reversed. That’s right, folks. Today, Linux owns just shy of 90% market share, with Unix having fallen to a mere 5%.

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Indeed, when it comes to the big players and real hardware, Linux rules the roost.

Death by a Thousand Downloads

Linux has been busy killing off Unix for the past decade, and the simple truth was that the days of purchasing expensive Unix licenses was over. Major Unix player, Sun Microsystems saw the writing on the wall and in 2005 released their commercial Solaris system for free. Solaris 10 would be available for free download with unlimited use, with support contracts available.

With the popularity of Solaris waning, Sun could no longer rely on past trends to sell support contracts. Users would instead experiment with Linux rather than cough up for a license, and then they would stick with Linux, giving up their former love affair with Sun. By making Solaris free (and I’m not talking about OpenSolaris here), Sun stood a greater chance to hold onto their customers. Sure, some would install it without a support contract, but better for Sun that they used Solaris instead of Linux. Or at least, that was the plan.

When Sun announced their plan to open source Solaris, the Linux community became abuzz with excitement. Sun had just released their excellent ZFS file system, and many were hoping that it might be released under a GPL compatible license. Wouldn’t it be great to have such a file system in the Linux kernel!

At one point, Linus even considered switching the kernel to the GPLv3, if it made it compatible with ZFS. This was of course motivated by purely selfish reasons (and why wouldn’t it be?). Linus has previously stated (in his usual style) his feelings about Sun, saying:

“A lot of people still like Solaris, but I’m in active competition with them, and so I hope they die.”

Whether said in jest or otherwise, Linus might soon get his wish. Sun is no more, but will it do much good? After seeing their embrace of open source with core technologies like OpenSolaris and Java, everyone in the computer world was been eager to see what new owner Oracle would do with these assets. Now, it seems we might have our answer – stop giving it away for free.

That’s right folks, despite all the trends of the last decade, Oracle is making Solaris non-free once again.

A New Clause

Infoworld broke the news about a subtle but immensely important license change for Solaris.

Previously, the Solaris download was made available and unrestricted once a user registered their details and received an “Entitlement Certificate”. That was it – there were no further restrictions. Install it, use it, deploy it. Enjoy. The license read:

“Obtaining an Entitlement Document is simple. On the Solaris 10 Get It page, select the platform and format you desire from the drop-down menus, and then click the Download Solaris 10 button. When you arrive at the Sun Download Center, either sign in or register, ensuring that a valid e-mail address is part of your Sun Download Center account to receive the Entitlement Document. Fill out the Solaris download survey, specifying the number of systems on which you are installing the software. Once you have completed the survey, you will be redirected to the Solaris 10 download page for downloading, and your Entitlement Document will be sent to your registered e-mail address.”

Now there’s one small addition, which reads:

“Please remember, your right to use Solaris acquired as a download is limited to a trial of 90 days, unless you acquire a service contract for the downloaded Software.”

The change is quite sneaky, with words carefully chosen to make it seem as though this was the case all along!

It’s important not to underestimate this change. Effectively, Solaris is no longer free for more than 90 days. This means that no-one can use it without paying for a commercial support contract, which will certainly make Solaris powerhouses re-consider alternatives. Sun tried to slow or even reverse the trend of Linux eating up Unix strongholds for breakfast, but now Oracle has undone all of that hard work with a single sentence. Perhaps this was a part of their plan all along? After all, they have supported Linux in the past including their own Red Hat Enterprise Linux based operating system, Unbreakable Linux. Time will tell.

Game Over

Before the acquisition though, Oracle was touting that they will continue to support Solaris and Sun hardware, and not to panic. One would have assumed that they want to make money out of Solaris, but if so, this is certainly not the way to go about it. Not in 2010. Doesn’t Oracle get it? The days of the big corporate licensing fees for heavy hitting Unix are over.

Sure, there are still lots of Solaris fans around, old school Unix administrators who swear by Korn shell, but they are a dying breed. Those contracts will probably see out their life, but slowly, one by one, they will all fall to Linux or some other free system. Unix is dead. Move along, nothing to see here.

With this latest move, Oracle has well and truly hammered the final nail into the coffin for Solaris. What next MySQL?

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