Dennis Clarke once collected cars, but gave it all up for open-source Solaris. A year ago, he took $13,000 in exchange for the last of his collection -- a red 1989 Corvette -- to pay for bandwidth on the Web site he maintains, Blastwave.org, which is dedicated to providing open-source applications for Sun Microsystems's Solaris operating system.
On Tuesday, a small group of Solaris true believers, including Clarke, will have their moment in the spotlight, as Sun finally releases the DTrace performance analysis software, the first component of OpenSolaris, the open-source version of its Unix operating system. As part of the announcement, Sun is expected to unveil a new community portal for Solaris developers, called Opensolaris.org, which is slated to be the home of the emerging open-source Solaris community.
Critics call OpenSolaris a late and cynical attempt to emulate the success of Linux, but for other true believers like Ben Rockwood, a system administrator for a Menlo Park, California, Internet company, argue that Sun is, in fact, building on an already large and under-recognized open source community. Rockwood asked that his company not be named.
Many of the most popular pieces of open-source software were either written for Solaris or quickly ported to Sun's operating system, Rockwood said. "The whole Net is rooted in Sun and open source. Everything associated with open source just got tagged Linux, whether it's GNOME or KDE Apache," he added, referring to popular open-source projects.
Rockwood should know what he's talking about. He is one of the developers of the Enlightenment graphical user interface software that is commonly associated with Linux. According to him, critics who say that Sun will be starting from scratch with OpenSolaris have overlooked the fact that there is already a large number of Solaris users like him, who are already active participants in the open-source world.
"Everyone thinks, 'How is Sun going to build a community?' But there is a community," he said. "We're here."
Since September 2004, Sun has quietly nurtured this community, gathering a small but influential group of Solaris enthusiasts like Clarke and Rockwood into an "OpenSolaris pilot" project designed to give developers early access to the Solaris source code and gain valuable community feedback on how to involve its users directly in Solaris development.
Pilot program members have had access not only to the Solaris source code, but also to Sun engineers who understand how to compile the Solaris source code into binary, machine-readable files that can run on a computer -- procedures that were never designed for the kind of widespread use that Sun hopes to see with OpenSolaris.
By working with pilot program members, Sun has been able to get feedback on how to make the process of compiling Solaris code easier for outsiders, but it has also created an initial wave of experts who can now help other users build and develop their own versions of OpenSolaris.
"In effect, they have seeded this whole community of developers who will understand how it works," said Rockwell.