That Solaris has some superior features is not really in question; Sun's OS has received numerous accolades, including InfoWorld's Technology of the Year award. But with capabilities such as ZFS and DTrace, Sun is trying to compete based on minor features, Zemlin says. "That's literally like noticing the view from a third-story building as it burns to the ground." And the Linux community is working on rival technology, Zemlin adds.
Given Sun's own Linux support on its Sparc and x86 servers, Zemlin suggests that it should make ZFS and DTrace available under a Linux-compatible license. Sun instead uses its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL), which is not compatible with the Linux GNU General Public License. (Sun says CDDL provides licensing support for a greater universe of systems than GPL does.)
One company that is moving from Solaris to Linux is Sesame Workshop, famous for TV shows such as Sesame Street. A key reason is that more people are available to support Linux than Solaris, says Noah Broadwater, vice president of information services at Sesame Workshop. "I honestly have one person who is certified on Solaris. I have four people who are certified on Linux," Broadwater said.
The other key issue with Solaris boils down to one word: cost. Sesame is saving about $20,000 a year in support costs by moving to Linux, Broadwater says.
One fear that Broadwater had in moving to Linux was degradation in performance, but he has been pleasantly surprised such degradation has not occurred. For example, the company's IBM Cognos BI application runs faster on x86 Linux boxes than it did on Sparc Solaris, he says.
The case for Solaris's existence
Sun stands behind Solaris. "For customers who'd chosen Linux in the past, we're seeing some of those same customers come back to Solaris," says Charlie Boyle, director of Solaris product marketing at Sun.
Solaris boasts features such as ZFS for simplified storage management and Solaris containers for virtualization, Boyle says. He cites a recent partnership in which Dell will make Solaris available on its computers; Dell would not do this if there was not customer demand. Sun is seeing brand new customers for Solaris; "I think we've got a great future," Boyle says.
"I think Solaris is absolutely a great OS," says Neil Wilson, a former Sun employee who later left the OpenDS project. Solaris is "absolutely far superior to Linux for the cases where the hardware support is there," he adds.
Gracenote, which provides a media recognition and metadata service for MP3 users (the CDDB database familiar to iTunes users), agrees. "We found the threading model in Linux was problematic. You get to a certain number of concurrent threads and the OS just slows way down," says Matthew Leeds, vice president of operations at Gracenote. Solaris "just works for us."
The debate over Solaris's open source future
As part of its plans to give Solaris a longer life, Sun has developed an open source effort based on Solaris, called OpenSolaris, featuring a binary release of Solaris through Project Indiana.