Linus Comments on OpenSolaris

I read these comments from Linus Torvalds yesterday in eWeek:

Sun "wants to keep a moat against the barbarians at the gate," he wrote in an e-mail interview. Torvalds said he does not expect developers clamoring to start playing with that source code.

"Nobody wants to play with a crippled version [of Solaris]. I, obviously, do believe that they'll have a hard time getting much of a community built up," Torvalds wrote. "I think there are parallels with the Java 'we'll control the process' model. I personally think that their problem is that they want to control the end result too much, and because of that they won't get any of the real advantages of open source."

He is speculating, of course, on the OpenSolaris license, which we have not announced yet. He doesn't know. And neither do I, to be honest. That discussion will be for another day.

I disagree with his comment about developers not clamoring to start playing with the code, though. The Solaris community very much is clamoring to play with the code. In fact, we can't get it out to them fast enough! I see it every day. I bring Solaris developers and system administrators into the OpenSolaris Pilot Program. One at a time. All day, every day. And I can assure you, they are a lively bunch of talented developers.

However, I think Linus has touched on a significant issue here -- control. Just how much control a corporation like Sun asserts over a project such as OpenSolaris is a subject of constant discussion internally and within the OpenSolaris Pilot Program. No one has been in our position before, so we're learning as we do all this. And thoughtful people can disagree (and they do, believe me!). In this respect, I see Linux and Solaris at two very different stages in their lives. I see Linux growing up from a grass-roots community into a fully viable desktop and enterprise operating system that now has the backing of major corporations but remains open source. I see Solaris as growing from the community, then moving under the stewardship of a major corporation, and now returning to its roots after many years of highly focused enterprise engineering.

So, here's my question -- can you judge the Solaris community (as it exists today) based on the experiences of the Linux community (as it exists today)? I mean, we are open sourcing an operating system that already has a large installed base around the world, already has a business model driving Sun, already has developers who will be fully enfranchised as an open source community very shortly, and already has a sophisticated development methodology that we are updating and carefully moving across the fire wall. It seems we are in a very different place as we open source Solaris right now than Linux was when it went open source. Am I wrong? That's not rhetorical ... I'm actually asking. I see it as a distinction with a very big difference. When questions of "control" come up they are sometimes characterized as a negative when in reality shouldn't they be considered complex business and technical issues that need to be responsibly resolved? Well, that's pretty much what we are doing.

I think this is a very important point. Clearly Solaris and OpenSolaris is in a very different situation to where the Linux kernel and distributions are, and have ever been. And not all open source OS development is done in the same way as Linux - the \*BSDs being a good example.

I don't see any way that the development of Solaris can quickly shift to a completely different model. It's going to take some time for outside developers to get up to speed with handling any sort of model. And it's going to take time for the current developers inside Sun to get used to the changes.

One of the problems I think is that there's no way for Sun to get a clear and final idea of how OpenSolaris will be developed in the long term - the community needs to develop and there will be multiple voices. So while there's some things that will be definite on launch (eg the license), some other things will be vague. I think it will be very important at launch to make it clear what is definite at the time, what is planned, and what is still up in the air.

Maybe one good thing to do at launch is to go into some detail on how development works for major open source projects (perhaps including Sun's existing ones like OpenOffice) and comparing how OpenSolaris will be.

I think it's obvious some form of "control" is needed. After all, Sun has several hundred engineers working full time on it - can't just suddenly say "do whatever you like". Sun's engineers will dominate in terms of amount of time spent on development anyway. Every open source project has some form of control, with some having more power than others. And not just over the source code - there's documentation, a central website, and so on.

There is the question of course on how much influence outside developers can have on Solaris, particularly the Solaris kernel. However, I would hardly expect there to be a massive clamoring for major changes - after all, most outside developers would likely be happy with where Solaris is today. A similar thing would exist for Linux - most would go with Linus's ideas and feelings anyway.

Clearly there would have to be some things that would not be acceptable to change in central source tree - eg breaking backwards compatability. Of course, developers could maintain seperate patches, like they do with Linux.

Posted by Chris Rijk on December 14, 2004 at 12:08 PM JST #

So Linus is concerned control limits the advantages of open source. He should know. He has exclusive control of what gets into the Linux kernel, and what does not. And sometimes that means advantageous code gets left out because it does not mesh with Linus' goals for the Linux kernel. Linus is one man, and a man of very strong opinion. However, the issue of control is a red herring.

Why is the benevolent dictatorship of Linus good, while control via a corporation or committee bad? Why not "open control" for open source? These are the questions the so called leaders of the open source community will not answer. They want to eat their cake and have it too.

We should not be surprised Red Hat forked the Linux kernel with Red Hat Linux Advanced Server 3.0. Unless open source software is managed in a flexible way that meets the needs of the ultimate consumers of the product, more custom kernels will be produced.

Linux does not equal open source, the GPL does not equal open source, and if the so called leaders of open source are indeed advocates of open source software, instead of their particular pet projects, they should all agree more open source is better, and more licenses, which allow more open source, are better.

Posted by Mark on December 14, 2004 at 06:21 PM JST #

I don't understand Linus' problems over the "control" of Open Solaris. After all, does he not have "control" over what goes into the Linux kernel? My understanding is that Linus, as the "benevolent dictator" of Linux, has the final say over what goes into (or stays out of) the Linux kernel. In this respect how is Linus' control any better than the perceived control Sun will have over Open Solaris?

Methinks Linus doth protest too much.

Posted by Rich Teer on December 14, 2004 at 07:31 PM JST #

The comments from Linus may be out of context. The issue here isn't about control -- it's about innovation. Remember that Linus had no aspirations for grand things when he started his project. Everything that led up to the development of Linux as an operating system came about by serenpidity.

Linux started from scratch. The open source community really is Linux because the people who started the Open Source Institute were and continue to be Linux people.

Prior to Linux, the only concepts were free software and proprietary software with open standards thrown into the mix. The Open Group and any "openness" didn't fit the paradygm of the day.

Also, Linus does exert control of the kernel as does any and all project maintainers. But he has given significant control to code maintainers like Alan Cox. In the open-source development model, the maintainer is like the project manager or product manager - they have to make decisions.

OpenSolaris is an emerging community. Many developers do have an interest in participating. But make no mistake about it -- the community models - Linux versus BSD or whatever emerges as OpenSolaris will not be the same as the GPL GNU/Linux community.

Linus' concern is valid though it may make little difference to the outcome. His four lane road may turn into a 16 lane super freeway as other open source communities graft onto the product stream.

It's too early to tell. I wouldn't worry too much about what Linus has to say about OpenSolaris because he doesn't know what it is or can be and his references are his own experience. Finally, don't underestimate his competence. When people make those sort of commnets they only expose their own lack of subject matter information."

Posted by Tom Adelstein on December 14, 2004 at 08:05 PM JST #

"Nobody wants to play with a crippled version [of Solaris]. I, obviously, do believe that they'll have a hard time getting much of a community built up,"

I as a member of the OpenSolaris pilot program look forward to playing with a "crippled version [of Solaris]" and will probably be crippling it even more by working on porting it back to usparcI cpu's, others in the community are looking at crippling it even more, by back porting it to run on 32bit Sparc cpu's. While no one is sure how it will be crippled, if it will be at all, I'm sure some of the things that will be missing, no home or small business user will really miss. If they want or need the full version it will remain avaible.

OpenSolaris is more than just a kernel, its about <em>choice</em>, Personally for my desktop, I don't want JDS or Gnome on it. OpenSolaris is about choice, it gives the developer the ability to modify install scripts to replace the desktop. I for one would prefer to replace the desktop with KDE, while I'm sure others would have there own desktop of <em>choice</em>.

Other rumors abound in the Solaris community of things that people want to do with OpenSolaris. I'm sure one of the first things to go will be the package management system, while it is great for the sys-admin that is responsible for an enterprise class server, it does not meet the needs of a smaller user. Current projects for its replacement include, Portage for Solaris. I have heard other users not part of the OpenSolaris program dreaming about merging apt-get, onto Solaris. With the source, we are open to choose what we want.

As far as control is concerned, does it really matter? I would be perfectly content if none of my changes go back into Solaris main or even OpenSolaris main. My contributions will live quite happily as set of patches on a public web server. Just as many patches to Linux do and did in the past. It took years to get XFS and the kernel debugger into Linux. Did they die? Were they no less useful to those that used them?

Today it is even less important for parts of a project to be included back into the original distribution. Perhaps if the license allows, they might even be forked an entirely new distribution, but it's too early to say. Today we have a much more open and vibrant web than we did even 3 years ago. Blogs abound, and there are lots of sites dedicated to hosting patches to open source projects. So individuals can find the patches they need to improve or change OpenSolaris to be what they want or need it to be.

Posted by James Dickens on December 14, 2004 at 08:24 PM JST #

<hr><center>Control? Or Do You mean &ldquo;Management?&rdquo;</center><hr>

Hi there.
My name is Dennis Clarke.
I am involved in the OpenSolaris pilot.
Sun recently posted a big tarball with the Solaris 10 source in it.

So I downloaded it. I unpacked it. I have it on my servers at Blastwave.

I don't work for Sun.

Sun gave me their source code.

If that isn't Open and Free then I don't know what is.

Sun wants to work with us, the community people, to help us to work with the OpenSolaris source.

To me that feels like help and support.

It feels like good &ldquo;Management&rdquo;

It feels free.

Because it is.

Dennis Clarke
Admin and Director for
Home of Community Software for Solaris


Posted by Dennis Clarke on December 14, 2004 at 11:07 PM JST #

Hi all,

I am following the OpenSolaris stuff for quite some time. For myself I like Solaris for its techie-ness, I am a Linux developer and user.

Now as a good Linux citizen one often thinks about open source, its values and its pros and cons, relation to closed source, innovation and things like that.

Throwing out the source code to an audience and having a community that works as an open source ecosystem are 2 pretty different things . And here is what the license and the philosophy of the project is all about.

You can argue that "sun gives us their source code" is all that is to it, but I dont't think so. You can also argue that Solaris is more tech-heavy, well at least in some degrees, than Linux+Distros are. Okay. But that doesn't matter too much here. For people to get comfortable in an open source project they have to feel that they are equal, equal in their right to contribute and in the way the other community members look at them.

The great thing about people involved in open source projects is that they do it intrinsically, this means they are kind of self motivated. Many people work for many different reasons in an open source project. But one of the most important things is that the stuff they do weighs as much as any other member does. So I think "control" is a big issue here. Control in a sense that whatever anybody does he is always a second class citizen is much to it here. And control in opensolaris will be a much broader issue than in the linux kernel. Since Solaris much like the BSDs are a complete operating system, not just the kernel bits. If you follow the recent problem s with linux distributions you see many of this problems. Control and community involment is also one of the reason, so many Linux experts like to use debian or why redhat has created the fedora project. So you can see that Linux as a whole also has many issues of control - and I hope that the OpenSolaris project will be able to deal with problems and aims at solving issues like that, not just by saying they don't apply here :-)

But I feel very comfortable when reading the posts of the open solaris developers. They are thinking really open source to me. I hope the community grows and that OpenSolaris will be a true open source project.

By the way: A good example for a tech-heavy osdl compatbile operating system with almost no community around it is Darwin. It is also more like a marketing value that they are building MacOSX on an open sourced operating system core. But they don't do anything to make people feel comfortable contributing to the project. And this is where the problem is.

So to make my comment clear: Open source is not just about the size of the source code or the technical excellence of the code, it's about the community, especially giving them a perspective to improve the project to grow the project, to harvest the stuff together in the community.

just my .02 $.

Anyways I am looking forward to the announcment of opensolaris. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Jakob Praher on December 16, 2004 at 08:01 PM JST #

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