Sun executive riffs on Solaris, OpenSolaris

A Q&A with John Loiacono

Sun Microsystems Inc. expects to release the first update to its Solaris 10 operating system next month, according to the company's software head. Sun recently announced plans to add a new file system, the 128-bit Zetabyte File System or ZFS, to Solaris 10 as well as the ability for users to run applications designed for other operating systems on top of Solaris via segmented containers.

As executive vice president of Sun's software group, John Loiacono heads up the company's software operations, including its Solaris and Java businesses. He's a long-time Sun employee, having joined the company in 1987. He was previously senior vice president of Sun's operating platforms group, and prior to that role, was the firm's chief marketing officer.

IDG News Service talked to Loiacono recently about Solaris 10, the open-source version of the operating system, OpenSolaris, which Sun released in June, and the relationship between the two pieces of software. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation.

IDGNS: Five months in, how successful do you think OpenSolaris has been? What about community contributions?

Loiacono: It's been wildly successful. Maybe ten times what we thought it would be. There have been some putbacks [of technology to the OpenSolaris project].

Community contributions are somewhat as we predicted and also what we didn't expect. While bug fixing is important, what's really fascinating is the work some people are doing on porting OpenSolaris to PowerPC, to the mainframe space, to shrink it down to an RTOS [real-time operating system] and people are also looking to extract pieces of the operating system.

IDGNS: How far along is Sun in its stated plan of making all its software open-source? Doesn't the porting of OpenSolaris to a new platform like PowerPC require all of Solaris' closed binaries to be open?

Loiacono: The entire OpenSolaris kernel is open source. There are a couple of pieces like drivers that we don't have source rights to; we ship the business rights to them. We're working on it. We highly encourage this [the porting of OpenSolaris]. We're talking to people who are putting Solaris on PowerPC and on the IBM mainframe. All of this is absolutely vital to give more people access to Solaris. Today there are 440 or 450 non-Sun x86 systems that are certified to run Solaris from Dell, HP, IBM, Acer, Lenovo, etc. In blades, IBM and Egenera endorse Solaris. You'll see more [support for Solaris] moving forward. It's a domino effect.

IDGNS: What happened to Linux Application Environment, formerly known as Project Janus, a way for Linux binaries to run unmodified on Solaris? Did that technology make it in to Solaris 10 already? If so, how does that differ from Sun's recent announcement that users will be to run applications designed for Red Hat Inc.'s Linux on top of Solaris via segmented containers?

Loiacono: Janus did ship previously. You could think of Solaris Containers for Linux Applications which we just announced as Janus 2.0. It's new enhanced technology. It has the ability to run over time any Linux distribution in a container. You could have Red Hat [version] 2 in one container and Red Hat 4 in another container. Why are we announcing Red Hat first? It's the dominant market player with a 60 to 80 percent market share.

IDGNS: ZFS was supposed to make it into the first release of Solaris 10 last year, what happened?

Loiacono: It was a race to get features in as soon as we could [into Solaris]. Our first update [of Solaris 10] will be in December. ZFS is rocket science, it's a new breakthrough. It's taken longer than we wanted [to include ZFS in the operating system]. The Solaris update will be independent of Sun's quarterly product launch on Dec. 6. That launch will be around the hardware announcement in terms of compiler technologies, platforms and support.

IDGNS: What's the road map for Nevada, the next major release of Solaris?

It's not Nevada. Some technologists internally have used that name. It's Solaris Next. New code becomes available in OpenSolaris and is integrated and tested, then there's a distribution, a commercial release version called Solaris. Every three to five months, you'll see the next update to Solaris. ZFS is in OpenSolaris and will be available in Solaris in the spring of 2006.

IDGNS: How is OpenDocument going, the OASIS consortium's push to make Open Document Format for Office Applications [OpenDocument] a global standard? [NB: The interview took place prior to Microsoft Corp.'s announcement Tuesday that it plans to submit its rival Office Open XML (extensible markup language) document format technology to the International Standards Organization (ISO).]

Loiacono: OpenDocument has gone extremely well, we can't believe who's come out of the woodwork [to support the file format]. Look at the State of Massachusetts. The big question is how will the other vendor respond?

IDGNS: So, how do you expect Microsoft to respond?

Loiacono: I don't see how they can't but support it [OpenDocument] over time. It's not [Microsoft] Office that locks customers in, it's the file format that does it.

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