The fate of OpenSolaris got a little cloudier this week, as analysts noted a significant change to the license of its commercial counterpart, Solaris 10.
The change, first noted by InfoWorld's Savio Rodrigues, is pretty simple, and pretty dramatic. Rather than allow Solaris 10 users to download and use the operating system indefinitely--albeit without support--the new owners have essentially converted Solaris 10 to trialware. Oracle now grants users only 90 days to try out Solaris 10 for free, after which a service contract is required.
While one can appreciate the desire to generate more revenue, this move seems counter-intuitive in the face of IT reality. The presence of multiple enterprise-ready Linux distributions, which can be evaluated and used to customer hearts' content, is a huge source of competition for Solaris. And, since Linux was draining Unix market share far more than other operating systems already, this is decidedly a risky move.
Now, to be clear, OpenSolaris is a whole different animal from Solaris. Sun's open source version of Solaris was launched in 2004, and by 2007 had hired Debian GNU/Linux founder Ian Murdock to create a full Linux-like distribution of the OpenSolaris code.
So, how this Solaris licensing change affects OpenSolaris is anyone's guess, but I'll give it a go.
The ultimate fate of OpenSolaris has been called into question every since the big Oracle/Sun merger conference on January 27, when Edward Screven, Chief Corporate Architect of Oracle outlined some directions for Solaris, but not OpenSolaris.
Screven told the attendees: "Oracle got into Oracle Enterprise Linux to give customers... a single source of engineering for these products. Now we can extend this into Solaris."
Not once was OpenSolaris mentioned, though clearly Oracle has plans for Solaris. Screven went on to cite that over 50,000 Sun customers are using Solaris, which is why Oracle plans a fully integrated Oracle-on-Solaris stack, very similar to Oracle Enterprise Linux.
Some initial speculation is that this new license change spells the end of OpenSolaris, though in some cases, I think writers are a bit confused about the differences between the two platforms. And, even if you do know the difference between the commercial product and the open software, there is a certain logic to this argument: Oracle's restricting Solaris, so they're going to horde the rest of the treasure and pull the plug on OpenSolaris, too. Zenoss is pretty interested in how this will shake out, too, since they support both operating systems.
But I wonder if that's not the right way to think about this.
I've been working on a new Fedora book and have been researching the origins of this community distribution that was born from the combination of Red Hat Linux and the Fedora Project after Red Hat chose to re-tune Red Hat Linux with new enterprise-ready features and make a commercial-only version called Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). RHEL would have custom features available to RHEL customers, while Fedora would ultimately become the free and open version for the user and developer community.
Reading all of the plans about how Solaris will have features that will be held back from OpenSolaris now sounds very familiar when put in that context. It's very possible Oracle isn't looking to kill off OpenSolaris at all: it's simply moving the Solaris/OpenSolaris closer to the RHEL/Fedora and SUSE Enterprise Linux/openSUSE models. The only difference is will be that for the Linux models, both sides are open source, while a similar Solaris model would have the commercial product closed and the community version open.
In other words, Solaris/OpenSolaris might use a purer open core model moving forward, with both platforms flourishing.
Setting up the paywall for Solaris 10 simply refines the open core model the Solaris/OpenSolaris relation already had. It's just that now the commercial Solaris 10 will not be free in any sense: neither as in beer or freedom.
Obviously, the restriction of these freedoms is not a good thing, but I have a feeling that this may be the way Oracle will reconcile its desire to maintain a strong OpenSolaris community versus its need to generate revenue.
Let's see if it works.