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OpenSolaris and the power to fork

August 3, 2010

Back when Solaris was initially open sourced, there was a conscious effort to be mindful of the experiences of other projects. In particular — even though it was somewhat of a paradox — it was understood how important it was for the community to have the power to fork the operating system. As I wrote in January, 2005:

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching Linux, it’s to not become forkophobic. Paradoxically, in an environment where forks are actively encouraged (e.g. Linux) forking seems to be less of a problem than in environments where forking is viewed as apostasy (e.g. BSD).

Unfortunately — and now in hindsight — we know that OpenSolaris didn’t go far enough: even though the right to fork was understood, there was not enough attention paid to the power to fork. As a result, the operating system never quite got to being 100% open: there remained some annoying (but essential) little bits that could not be opened for one historical (i.e., legal) reason or another. When coupled with the fact that Sun historically had a monopoly or near-monopoly on Solaris engineering talent, the community was entirely deprived of the oxygen that it would have needed to exercise its right to fork.

But change is afoot: over the last six months, the monopoly over Solaris engineering talent has been broken. And now today, we as a community have turned an important corner with the announcement of the Illumos project. Thanks to the hard work of Garrett D’Amore and his band of co-conspirators, we have the beginning of open sourced variants of those final bits that will allow for not just the right but the power to fork. Not that anyone wants to set out to fork the system, of course, but that power is absolutely essential for the vitality of any open source community — and so will be for ours. Kudos to Garrett and crew; on behalf of all of us in the community, thank you!

8 Responses

  1. Lots of Solaris ON veterans have left Sun over the past three years, many with deep knowledge of the code base and build procedures. For starters, think of the Andy’s: (Tonic) Tucker and Rudoff. Where were folks like this when Sun was actively encouraging and fostering alternative distributions, and why do you think the recent wave of departures (yours included) will make a different impact this time? It’s funny how it takes some “tough love” from upstream to finally light this fire called Illumos in contrast to when JIS was pleadingly rolling out a welcome mat but very few from the “community” cared.

  2. I agree it’s a good thing, unfortunately I believe that it’s too little too late.

    Sun embarked on opensource a few years too late, Linux already had the mindshare. Also as Robert above mentions Sun never managed to get the deep traction in the community.

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