Sun to Make Solaris Source Code Available

  • Written By: R. Krause
  • Published: October 6 1999

Sun to Make Solaris Source Code Available
R.A. Krause - October 6th, 1999

Event Summary

October 1, 1999

Sun Microsystems Inc., in a major shift, plans to make the source code of its Solaris operating system freely available to the public in an attempt to parallel the success of the popular Linux operating system. (Sun's complete product line of servers and workstations run on Solaris, its version of the Unix operating system.)

Sun is not going to give away Solaris, but does plan to make the source code available under its "community-source license," according to Greg Papadopoulos, the company's chief technology officer. (Note: Source code is the computer instructions that set out exactly how the program works.)

Market Impact

Sun is presently the Unix market leader, with approximately 30% of overall Unix server unit volume in 1998. Unix server sales are predicted to remain flat for the next three years, whereas growth of servers running the Linux OS is estimated to be approximately 55% CAGR1 [Source:Dataquest]. Sun is likely trying to appropriate some of that momentum. Although Sun denies it, this appears to be (at least in part) a direct shot across Linux's bow. Sun has set no timeframe as yet, so their commitment level to the open-source path is still unclear.

This move should increase market growth slightly, primarily for Sun, but also for the general Unix market. Sun's intent is to get mindshare, from which market share is expected to follow. Although the market in general has been receptive to Linux as an alternative to the Windows hegemony, it is unclear that this will benefit Sun in the short term. In the longer term, this will allow third parties to develop Solaris-based applications more easily (similar to the Java model), which should increase the "pull" away from other Unix versions (e.g. HP-UX, AIX) toward Solaris. Assuming this strategy works, it will take 1-2 years to develop "serious" applications; applications which need only modest modifications to run on Solaris should be available in less than a year.

One long-term scenario: if HP and IBM choose to respond by releasing the source code for their versions of Unix (HP-UX and AIX, respectively), the Unix software market may consolidate faster than it would otherwise (25% probability).

User Recommendations

This announcement will appeal initially to customers who feel a big need to have the source code for their computers' OSes, or to those who might otherwise gravitate to Linux. General corporate users and non-developers (e.g. IT managers) will see little effect in the short term, and the announcement should have little effect on their acquisition process. In the longer term, these users can expect to see modest benefits accrue, primarily due to increased Solaris application availability and robustness.

1CAGR: Compound Annual Growth Rate

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