OpenSolaris, Linux could merge under Oracle

Analysts said key features of Solaris, particularly DTrace, could be useful additions to Linux

Oracle may end up merging the best of OpenSolaris with Linux once it takes control of Sun Microsystems, but it is unlikely to kill off Sun's widely used Solaris OS, analysts said.

On a conference call Monday, Oracle chairman Larry Ellison said one of the primary reasons Oracle is interested in Sun is for its Unix-based Solaris OS, which has long been an important platform for Oracle's database and has a fairly healthy and significant installed base.

[ InfoWorld's Neil McAllister correctly predicted Oracle's Sun takeover. Find out why he thought the deal would make sense. | For full coverage of the Oracle-Sun deal, see InfoWorld's special report. ]

Oracle is also a big proponent of Linux, however, so the deal raises questions about how Oracle might reconcile the two OSes. Indeed, just two weeks ago Oracle's corporate chief architect and top Linux engineer, Edward Screven, said Oracle would like to see Linux become the default operating system for the datacenter so that customers don't even think about choosing another OS.

"What we are working to do in the dat center ... is to make Linux the default for the datacenter OS," Screven said in a speech at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit in San Francisco. "We want there to be no question."

Ovum analyst David Mitchell said it's unlikely Oracle would get rid of the commercial version of Solaris in favor of Linux, mainly because of the steady stream of maintenance revenue Sun derives from the product, as well as professional-services revenue that both Sun and Oracle get from it.

"Typically it's a 90 percent-plus margin business," Mitchell said. "Oracle is unlikely to do anything to damage that extremely profitable maintenance/support business."

He predicted that Oracle will continue to invest in and update Solaris, a valuable OS for mission-critical markets like telecommunications, which prefer Solaris over Linux.

However, bringing some features of OpenSolaris, the open source version of Solaris, into Linux is an option, and something that has already been in the works among developers, Mitchell said.

"What I can see them doing is seeing which elements of Solaris could find their way into Linux," he said. "Sun has already committed to doing things like that. This coming together of Linux/Solaris has already been in the cards."

One stumbling block is the licensing terms for OpenSolaris and Linux, which right now are incompatible, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst with RedMonk. Open Solaris is offered under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which is based on the Mozilla Public License, while Linux is distributed under the GNU General Public License (GPL).

However, Oracle could change the licensing terms for OpenSolaris when it takes ownership of that product so that features in Linux and OpenSolaris become transferable, O'Grady said.

"Solaris has assets that would be very useful to Linux," he said. "If they were inclined to do so, they could change the licensing and make it possible to integrate Solaris assets back into Linux."

Sun's DTrace technology is one that people have already been eyeing for Linux, Mitchell said. It allows systems administrators to troubleshoot kernel and application problems on production systems in real time.

The Containers technology in Sun's OS would be useful in Linux, he said. Containers is virtualization-like technology that allows the OS to be divided into discrete parts, so they can be managed separately and have security comparable to separate OSes running on different machines.

(James Niccolai in San Francisco contributed to this report.)

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