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OpenSolaris Forks in Defiance of Oracle
The governing board complains of having no liaison with Oracle

In case Oracle takes it into its head to abandon or shut down OpenSolaris, a bunch of disgruntled developers led by Nexenta Systems Inc. means to ensure the open source code survives and prospers under a breakaway project independent of Oracle called Illumos, whose rebel flag reads “Hope and Light Spring Anew.”

Oracle has so utterly starved and ignored the open source project since it bought Sun that the OpenSolaris governing board is currently threatening to quit en masse unless its ultimatum demanding to be paid some mind is met by the end of August. The governing board complains of having no liaison with Oracle, no Oracle employees on the governing board, no Oracle web site support and no updated community-driven distro as promised, just radio silence.

Under these might-as-well-be-dead circumstances it’s no surprise that Oracle didn’t respond to Nexenta’s invitation to join its merry band.

Nexenta’s fortunes of course depend on the survival of OpenSolaris.

While committed to Solaris, supposedly a key reason why it bought Sun, Oracle apparently wants no outside interference in how Solaris is developed or, for that matter, competition on the OS front.

Anyway, Nexenta’s new senior director of engineering Garratt D’Amore, the self-appointed Illumos project lead who used to work at Sun and briefly at Oracle as a Solaris kernel and device driver architect, claims Illumos isn’t a true fork in the sense of FreeBSD/OpenBSD, only a fork in the sense of Linus’ tree and Alan Cox’ tree of the Linux kernel.

But he admits in the Illumos Q&A that technically it is a fork even if Illumos means to follow the upstream ON or OS/Net kernel and foundation code and just insert some of its own changes. He also admits that it could become a real fork in time depending on what Oracle does with OpenSolaris. As it is now, Illumos is supposed to be 100% ABI-compatible with Oracle, but has yet to figure out a way to test that compatibility.

ON, by the way, includes the OpenSolaris kernel, C libraries, shell and shell utilities, file systems and networking functions.

To start with, Illumos promises to open critical components in OpenSolaris that are still closed so it ceases to be like Apple’s nominally open source MacOS X project Darwin. Such widgetry includes libc_i18n, which is needed for a working C library, NFS lock manager, portions of the crypto framework, and scads of drivers.

The project has the idea that Oracle may suck up its changes into Solaris proper.

Oracle, on the other hand, now in the hardware business may not appreciate the idea of eventually porting OpenSolaris to competitive architectures such as IBM’s s390 mainframe and PowerPC chip or to ARM. Illumos could also come to embrace affiliate projects like X11, desktop and C++ runtime components.

D’Amore, who admitted that certain innovations may not be acceptable to Oracle during a webcast announcement Tuesday, explained that Illumos isn’t meant to be a distribution on its own, merely the kernel and foundation. Distros will be left up to finishers like Nexenta BeleniX and SchilliX that are supposed to adopt it as the base of their distributions. On the other hand, D’Amore said that Illumos could become a distro in time.

Independent of OpenSolaris, Illumos is supposed to be a meritocracy based on unpaid volunteer labor that “can’t be shut down, or subverted, or made slave to any master.” Its governance, once it’s got governance, is supposed to be “just enough governance,” with a light hand on the tiller.

Ultimately consensus-driven unless consensus fails to materialize, Illumos is currently under D’Amore’s “benevolent dictatorship.” He wants Oracle employees to join if they’re allowed to. Sun’s former open source officer Simon Phipps, who didn’t make the Oracle cut but is still for the moment on the OpenSolaris governing board, has got some sort of undefined role with Illumos.

Illumos will be looking for other corporate partners besides Oracle, D’Amore said. Besides Nexenta, BeleniX and SchilliX, other fellow travelers right now include Joyent, which complains of not being able to integrate its code with OpenSolaris, GreenViolet, berliOS and EveryCity.

D’Amore claims critical mass. The project’s got hosted servers complements of Stanford University, Redmine as its CMS, mailing lists and a dozen or so contributors. D’Amore prefers that code be committed and governed either by the BSD or MIT licenses, perhaps Apache.

About Maureen O'Gara
Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at) or paperboy(at), and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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