The blogosphere, or at least the hemisphere which cares about such things, has been busy producing references to the latest series of events surrounding Sun Microsystems' Project Indiana, the binary distribution of the company's OpenSolaris operating system. For example, last week Enterprise Linux Log featured a story about the state of affairs at a recent NYC UNIX user group in Manhattan where things didn't seem to go well. However, what I took from news of the event, including commentary from those who attended was entirely different from the way in which the article was seemingly framed.
First of all, I think it's apropos to point out several facts which should be kept in mind as the focus on OpenSolaris & Project Indiana continues:
- There is a tremendous amount of complexity involved with establishing a successful open source operating system and building a surrounding community. It's going to be a protracted process with a significant degree of difficulty. The fact that the market for open source operating systems has seen a great deal of expansion as of late doesn't mean Sun will be able to overstep plain and simple natural laws of open source software development. The proceeding months and years will resemble a battle, albeit one which can be won, but a battle nonetheless.
- Making OpenSolaris more Linux-like doesn't necessarily entail undoing the Solaris value proposition. It makes little sense to create a pseudo-Linux distro (there's enough Linux available as it stands),
yet Linux's popularity and reasons for such can not and should not be
ignored. The fact of the matter is that changes to OpenSolaris are
inevitable, whether they alienate its core user base by crossing
becoming too Linux-esque has yet to be seen. Thus far there has only
been discussion and proposal. I see Sun attempting to make the Solaris experience friendlier to those whose comfort zone is with Linux, not as an abandonment of its base.
- Open participation breeds discourse and disagreement...a fundamentally positive reality. As has been proven before, lowered barriers to participation creates an environment where people can and do speak. However, what is often said shouldn't always be taken as gospel. Sometimes those closest to open source technology (its users) can exhibit the type of blind fervor and narrow-mindedness which prevents rational exchange from occurring. While all forms of feedback should be encouraged, there is also room to filter what is returned. At the least, the fact that the winds of discontent are blowing is a healthy indicator...it would be more concerning if things were silent.
- Sun is still integrating the open source development model into its strategy. Like any one person or group, Sun doesn't have all the answers. That's why it's important for them to continue to turn to the Solaris community, as the best course of action won't be made clear by circling the wagons but by facilitating honest dialogue. In the meantime, there will be a lion's share of conflict and divergence. The key will be how well Sun integrates the governing realities of being a large, for-profit corporation with those of successful open source software development.
As neither a Sun apologist nor a biased observer (they're not Entiva Group clients for the record), hopefully the above will be taken carte blanche. It would be quite a bit helpful to witness a more pragmatic approach to analyzing the current status of OpenSolaris/Project Indiana landscape. Partly because in the rush to categorize and pass judgement it's impossible to maintain an objective mindset which powers the formation of balanced viewpoints. Enough time hasn't passed to claim otherwise...