Solaris is not open source

December 29, 2009

This is not exactly news to anyone, but I feel like writing it down anyways: Solaris is not open source, and this matters in practice.

You might well ask, 'but what about OpenSolaris?'

As a sysadmin, the two open source freedoms that I really care about are the freedom to inspect the actual code you are running and the freedom to fix the actual code that you are running. OpenSolaris does not deliver either of those freedoms, as the OpenSolaris codebase is not the same as the Solaris codebase (and I'm not sure if the two were ever the same). In fact, you may well not even be able to replace Solaris things with bits from OpenSolaris without a lot of work.

(That was our experience when we ran into mountd issues; we tried building the OpenSolaris mountd code on some version of Solaris 10, only to find that there were significantly different library APIs. Possibly going backwards in time to earlier OpenSolaris mountd versions would have worked, but then who knows what bug fixes we'd be missing.)

The truth is that while OpenSolaris is interesting and periodically useful, and it's nice to see Sun release the code that way for inspection and potential use outside (Open)Solaris, it's not the same thing as having a real open source Solaris. And Solaris is not open source, not in anywhere near the same way that something like Ubuntu, Red Hat, or FreeBSD is, and this difference does matter to me.

(It may well not matter to developers. Developers likely care much more about the technology and the ideal code than they necessarily care about what exact code customers are running; for most reuse purposes, OpenSolaris is perfectly good. It does mean that there is no way for outside developers to contribute directly to Solaris, but I suspect that Sun considers that a feature.)

Comments on this page:

From at 2009-12-29 10:19:46:

This is a bit confusing but Solaris source is not open as in Solaris 10, a subset branch where opened and named OpenSolaris. If you run Solaris you may not get access to the source (without paying). If you run OpenSolaris (as in the distribution) which is today also supported, you have access to the source and you can rebuild it with your own changes as you like.

I find the name confusing, the worst part was when they decided to reuse OpenSolaris as the name for the Indiana project. But, it's at least not named java ;)

So no, if you are using anything prior to and including Solaris 10 you do not have the source. It is getting a bit hard to just port things from the ON consolidation back to Solaris 10 since there have been a lot of changes since the branch was created.


By cks at 2009-12-29 14:19:48:

While Sun will theoretically sell you support for OpenSolaris, the short support period (18 months the last time I looked) is not long enough to be practical in many environments. There is no possible way we could run something with such a short support period on our fileservers, for example.

From at 2009-12-29 19:49:07:

"Will OpenSolaris follow the same support life cycle as Solaris? A: No, however, Sun will provide support for 5 years from the date of general availability. Please visit the OpenSolaris EOSL page for full details on the life cycle for OpenSolaris."


By cks at 2009-12-29 20:45:51:

Thanks for the Sun URL. Unfortunately, reading it makes me somewhat more confused and no more reassured than before. As far as I can decode it, OpenSolaris has three support periods:

  • 6 months in which Sun will release general patches (as SRUs) for problems discovered, 'including SunAlert fixes (proactive)'.
  • a further 2 1/2 years in which Sun no longer releases general patches for problems (instead only future releases get the fix), but Sun Support might be clubbed into creating a custom fix (an IDR) for your system if you can get them to listen.
  • a further 2 years during which Sun charges you more for continuing to do the above.

In particular, it does not appear that proactive security fixes are available for more than six months. This, how shall I put it, is not support that we can use. Instead, to me this looks a lot like 6 months of real support followed by two and a half years of unsuccessful arguing with Sun Support (and having vulnerable systems).

Perhaps this is not Sun's intention, in which case they need to rewrite some web pages to be much clearer.

From at 2009-12-29 21:14:40:

I agree, it's a bit vague, I guess the real period for software updates are only six months for OpenSolaris today. It does as always depend on what you use it for, we don't use OpenSolaris in our datacenters yet where I need this kind of support. On other boxes I feel like the new snapshot based live upgrades makes the step to a later release much easier and safe, but thats not an option for all environments.

I guess we can't have both a totally open Solaris OS and long time support without paying for a large scale support contact, we have to choose one.

The support cycle will probably change when OpenSolaris is transformed into Solaris 11 or what the named would be. But we'll have to wait and see what Oracles decides, it's at least a year away anyway.

Written on 29 December 2009.
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Last modified: Tue Dec 29 01:09:44 2009
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