Sun Microsystems - doing all it can to propagate its immense software wealth

December 11, 2006
A couple of weeks back, Sun Microsystems created a buzz in the tech world when it announced its decision to release their flag ship language Java under a GPL license albeit GPL v2. But even though it could have surprised and gladdened the Free Software fans the world over, it is clear that it was a well calculated, deeply thought out decision which was aimed at the survival and further propagation of the Java language.

It is true that at its core, Sun is a hardware company with the bulk of its revenue being generated from selling high end servers, workstations and storage solutions. But it has also invested heavily in developing robust software. And what is amusing is that it does not charge anything for most of the software it has developed and has been providing it free of cost., Netbeans, Java and Solaris being a case to the point.

At one time, Solaris was the most popular Unix operating system enjoying a huge market share, greater than even IBM AIX and HP-UX combined. Then Linux arrived at the horizon and slowly started chipping away at the market share of all the Unixes including Solaris. With Linux gaining demi god status, it was inevitable that Sun take a deep look at itself. It realized that if it did not re-structure its thinking, it will be reduced to a mere hardware company like Dell selling boxes, from its present status as an IP creator. And it has shown enough foresight to change with changing times. Instead of fighting Linux, it started bundling Linux - more specifically Red Hat Linux with its servers along side its own operating system Solaris. And over an year back, it released the Solaris code under an open license and named it OpenSolaris.

Now Sun is going even further by hinting that it is seriously considering releasing Solaris under a GPL license. A few years back, the PCs that were sold did not meet the minimum requirements for running Solaris which made it a difficult proposition to run it as a desktop. But with rapid advances made in the hardware field, a drastic drop in hardware prices and partly thanks to Microsoft for upping the ante with regard to minimum memory requirements for running Vista, it has suddenly become possible to look at Solaris as a viable desktop OS alternative as it works smoothly with just 512 MB RAM.

Fig: Get a Free DVD consisting of Solaris 10 and Sun Studio software

Taking all these events into consideration, Sun is doing everything in its power to ensure that the fruits of its hard work lives on and gains in popularity. A few days back when I visited Sun's website, I was surprised to see a link offering to send a free DVD media kit consisting of the latest build of Solaris 10 and Sun Studio 11 software to the address of ones choice. I have always believed that one of the reasons for Ubuntu to gain so much popularity was because of its decision to ship free CDs of its OS. Perhaps taking a leaf from Ubuntu, Sun has also started shipping free DVDs of Solaris 10 OS to anybody who want a copy of the same - a sure way of expanding its community.

In the long run, the logical thing for Sun to do will be to release Solaris under GPL. By doing so, Sun would gain the immense good will of the Free Software fans the world over and ensure a permanent place in the history of computing. Unlike GNU/Linux which is a loose amalgamation of scores of individual software pieces around the Linux kernel, Solaris is a whole product whose tools are tightly integrated with its kernel. So even if Solaris is released under GPL, it may not see as many distributions as we see in Linux. And who is better qualified to provide services and support for Solaris other than Sun itself?


  • I have been a proponent of Linux for the last 8 years after trying it in production in place of a few aging HP-9000s, and now I have a large and mission-critical part of the data center running on Debian. I've always thought Sun's stuff was top-of-the-line, but a little out of reach for our perpetually tightening budget, so I never brought any of their stuff in-house. Until now...

    Now that Sun is making it so easy for admins like me to try their stuff, I'm quickly becoming a Sun convert. I am just now deploying a few Dell 1850s with Solaris 10, and with the prices of Sun's SunFire T series boxes being so good, I will undoubtedly become a new Sun hardware customer in the near future. I know I'm not the huge accounts they are used to, but I'm guessing that by expanding mind share they will eventually build up a large volume of smaller clients to add to the small volume of large clients. I hope so anyway...

    Solaris really is very advanced, and Sun's hardware is too, so I hate to see all that engineering excellence spiral out of existence. I think Jonathan Schwartz is doing the right thing. It's painful for them now I'm sure, but it may be just what they need to pull out of their slow decline.

  • The previous post was right on. Solaris is a great piece of software that makes for the foundation of the most mission critical environment. The more I use Linux and bump up against it's limitations the more I like Solaris. Don't get me wrong Linux is Unix and I think any Unix is the way to go. But right now Solaris is a better product.

  • Wow, It is really nice to know that we can get free DVD media of Solaris from Sun. I have placed an order with them for a copy. I hope they continue with this instead of doing it only for a short time.

    I agree that if anything is to motivate people installing Solaris on their machine, this could go a long way.

  • I believe, Sun Microsystems is inherently an Indian company or atleast has a good percentage of Indians working for it. In fact, one of its co-founders Vinod Koshla is an Indian venture capitalist.

    Sun Microsystems was founded by Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill Joy.

  • To the poster who wrote about Sun and Indians:
    What does it have to do with the great technology they are producing?

    This aside. Solaris is nice, it feels good to be able to run a top-notch real Unix on my desktop. In my opinion they only need to polish certain things like the installation, package management and JDS.

  • I wonder which version of solaris they are shipping... is it the just released "Secure by default" Solaris with all the services listening only locally or a previous build. I hope it is the latest version.

    I would really like to try out their RBACs, containers, DTrace and other interesting stuff.

  • I have been running Solaris since version 9, and version 10, for free, well, that is a gift to the community. No other system on the market runs more stable and secure. Thank's to all the great sofware and hardware engineers in the sun corp.