Illumos aims to clone dying OpenSolaris

Rebel forces have created an alternative to the venerable Sun operating system, which is now withering in the evil embrace of Oracle

OpenSolaris's days are numbered. Oracle has revealed plans to discontinue support for the platform, and the OpenSolaris board has since disbanded. But there's a ray of hope for supporters of the platform who are loathe to enlist a free alternative or to fork over cash to Oracle to use regular Solaris: Developers of a newly released project called OpenIndiana are touting the offering as the only true clone of OpenSolaris out there.

OpenIndiana is a project of the The Illumos Foundation, which develops Illumos, an open source alternative to the OpenSolaris and Solaris kernel and core network features. "OpenIndiana aims to be binary and package compatible with Solaris 11 and Solaris 11 Express, and most of the operating system is built from source code that Oracle continues to make available," according to OpenIndiana. "So in some ways, our relationship is similar to the way the CentOS project tracks Red Hat Enterprise Linux."

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Alasdair Lumsden spearheaded the OpenIndiana project because he's a huge fan of OpenSolaris and wants to continue using it for his small hosting company. However, he finds it difficult to afford the $100,000 in licensing fees he'd need to pay to migrate his 50 two-socket servers to Solaris 11.

One alternative, he said, was a different flavor of Linux -- but "for us, Linux lacks many of the features that we use every day, like ZFS and containers," he told The Register.

As for using another OpenSolaris distribution such as Nexenta, BeleniX, or SchilliX, "None of the other distributions are a clone of OpenSolaris, nor do they have the market penetration we believe we can obtain with this project," states the FAQ page of the OpenIndiana Wiki.

Specifically, Lumsden is targeting organizations that are in a predicament similar to his: Smaller businesses that rely on Solaris for their server needs but don't have the enterprise-level budgets to cover the licensing costs. For the time being, OpenIndiana is available only on x64 machines. Sparc support will come later.

Given that Oracle has already discontinued real-time access to the OpenSolaris OS/Net consolidation, Lumsden plans to move OpenIndiana to the Illumos kernel and foundation, once the project is mature. Additionally, the project will support core desktop components that are still being developed in the open, including JDS (Java Desktop System), XNV (X Windows System), and SFW (Sun Freeware Collection). "Should Oracle cease providing access to these components, we will continue their development independently, like any other Linux/BSD distribution," according to OpenIndiana.

Beyond being at the mercy of Oracle's whims in terms of providing access to code and components, developers of the project face the challenge of filling in the gaps for closed-source and out-of-date components: "For now, all components in the /release and /dev OpenSolaris.org IPS repositories are redistributable, so we will ship those binary components. Illumos [is] working on providing replacements, and once these are ready we will use those. Eventually we hope to replace all closed source components."

Given the challenges of developing and maintaining a business-worthy clone of OpenSolaris, the OpenIndiana Project's ability to thrive will depend heavily on ongoing contributions from developers, a task it is pursuing.

The first development release of OpenIndiana is available for download. More information is available at the OpenIndiana website.

This article, "Illumos aims to clone dying OpenSolaris," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog.

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