Reading the Oracle tea leaves for Solaris

February 25, 2010

(Disclaimer: I am currently feeling pessimistic about both the future of Solaris and our future with Solaris.)

The big news lately is the combination of the fact that Oracle is now charging even for security patches to Solaris and rumors that Oracle will entirely end OpenSolaris support. So, what do these tea leaves suggest to me about the future of Solaris and OpenSolaris?

My initial reaction is that the move to charging for Solaris 10 security patches effectively means the end of the free version of Solaris 10 as a useful operating system to install for general use (sadly, some people will be persuaded that they don't actually need security patches; they're wrong). Any free version of Solaris 10 is now basically a sampler, much like Oracle has done with a personal use version of their database, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Solaris license was revised to reflect that in a while.

More generally, I don't believe that Oracle has suddenly decided to get into the operating system business, and I see these events as support for this view. Unlike Sun, I expect that Oracle sees Solaris as necessary and potentially useful infrastructure for their other products, not as an end to itself (especially not as a profitable end, because it hasn't been). Solaris can be justified as an independent entity and expense only so long as it pays its own way, and the same is true of OpenSolaris.

My guess is that commercial support for OpenSolaris can't ever pay its own way (especially on the very limited and mostly useless terms that Sun offered before) due to a very small potential market, so I rather expect that it is not long for this world and that Oracle will not sell support for further official versions of OpenSolaris.

(Commercial support for Solaris is safe so long as Oracle uses it as a base for their own products.)

Will OpenSolaris itself continue to exist? I don't know. There are costs to operate and to have now-Oracle people deal with the OpenSolaris community; the question is how much benefit Oracle derives from the community, especially given that Oracle isn't in the operating system business as such. My impression is that outside contributions to OpenSolaris have been low, but I could be off-base.

Written on 25 February 2010.
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Last modified: Thu Feb 25 01:19:52 2010
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