(will there be) a future for OpenSolaris?

Saw this linked to from /. . Its pretty clear that Oracle is taking a deep, long, hard look at all projects within Sun, figuring out what to keep, and what to abandon. Things which have no hope of revenue generation, or driving business in general are not likely long for this world.

This brings us to OpenSolaris. This is the “open source” version of Solaris. I put it in quotes, as it may technically be an open source license in some manner of speaking, but it is fundamentally incompatible with GPL, with Artistic, with … you name it. The code base cannot be contributed to from a GPL or other code base. There can’t be cross pollination of efforts. Which tends to cut down significant contributions from serious companies that view adding features and functionality to GPL projects as a way forward with their product offerings.

So I read this with some trepidation.

In short, Oracle is asking OpenSolaris folks to help justify its existence as something funded.

So here’s a challenge for everyone who wants to make our product even
more Open. Show us a plan for how that will ultimately generate revenue
for Oracle? The “just do it and see what happens” idea won’t fly —
management will need to have a real plan. Ideally backed up with some
research (marketing numbers, etc.) or other evidence. Remember, this is
a real business with millions of real dollars invested in it — its not
some high school economics research project.

I read this as several things. First, a deep and fundamental misunderstanding of how open source works. Second, significant concern from those who want to retain the “open source” project going forward, that they see that they need to be productive to Oracle’s bottom line.

Oracle is a business, and it wants to make money. Pure and simple. So how can a software company make money with an open source project? I mean its … like … impossible. You give away the program, code, and other bits for free … and no one will pay you for support.

Right Redhat?

As I said, a deep and thorough misunderstanding of open source.

If giving stuff away free does lead to *revenue* (and this was *part* of
what an Open Source Solaris product was about — enabling sales of Sun
hardware), then great. (The other part was an attempt to contribute to
breaking the Windows monopoly on the desktop. I think Linux has done
more here though.)

I’d put Solaris/OpenSolaris out as its own business unit. No hardware ties at all with any Oracle business unit. You have OpenSolaris (akin to Fedora/Centos in some regards) and Solaris. This business unit will either live, or die, based entirely upon revenue it brings in. Its business model should be effectively identical to Redhat’s. Redhat is quite profitable mind you, on software anyone can pull down and install on any number of machines. It has redistribution agreements with many hardware vendors.

So should Solaris Inc.

This model obviously works.

Do the same thing with MySQL. Commercial/Open product.

Oh, and by the way, change the licenses to GPL so people can actually contribute to it. Without that, Solaris Inc. is dead on delivery.

Without something like this, OpenSolaris, and Solaris face a very bleak future. OpenSolaris in part drove people to consider using Solaris commercially. Without OpenSolaris, commercial Solaris is pretty much toast. It was heading that way before the OpenSolaris project began.

The issue is, fundamentally, egos get and had got in the way of doing the right thing, coupled with some poor business strategic and tactical decisions.

Ask most Sun folk and they’ll tell you that Solaris is infinitely superior to Linux and everything else. Then when asked why this didn’t translate into commercial success/thrashing of the competitors/why Sun shipped more Linux than Solaris … most will shrug or offer WAGs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this pattern … in companies I worked for (SGI) and in companies we’ve worked with (Sun).

If you are not winning or gaining market share, you are losing ground. And if you are losing ground, deluding yourself that you are better isn’t going to help you figure out why you are losing. Because you will have to climb out that much deeper of a hole after you are done, the longer you delude yourself.

This is where OpenSolaris now finds itself. The Oracle folks said “Hey, you are deluding yourself, this is not a commercial success, a driver of new business and new revenue. Show us how we are going to make money with this. Or kill it and write off the investment.”

What sad is that the path to turning it into a potentially profitable endeavor requires a focus upon doing something the Redhat does, and fixing the license.

Redhat doesn’t develop all its own product … this is done globally, and they aggregate work done by many others. They package it, they support what they package. They do some development on some critical bits, but as it is GPL, everyone else can contribute.

Notice that. Because it is GPL, everyone else can contribute.

What license is OpenSolaris using?

The fix is fairly easy to do, but likely terrifying for OpenSolaris/Solaris business folk. It requires a leap of faith. A huge one.

One that Redhat has made and continues to make. And it is doing quite well at that.

SuSE is doing reasonably well as well with this model.

Hmmm. … I wonder if they are onto something.

I guess I shouldn’t keep pointing out the obvious here. I’ve not been hired to do this, so my advice is somewhat armchair quarterbacking. But if i were hired to do this, i’d write my business plan and elevator pitch just like Solaris was a real open source startup. I’d start out with the license change, the community growth, and focus on the only thing that matters for Solaris Inc. The revenue that Solaris Inc will add to Oracle Inc going forward. Not in additional hardware sales (that was a foolish model). But in a Redhat like scenario.

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