Sun cites open source tribulations

But company is world's largest open source vendor, executive says, while other officials add that company has learned a lot in its efforts

Sun Microsystems officials on Monday acknowledged issues the company has had to deal with in offering products such as the OpenSolaris OS and Java via an open source business model.

Morning events at the CommunityOne conference in San Francisco featured reflections on the company's open source efforts, including the official rollout of the OpenSolaris version of the Solaris OS. Sun, said Rich Green, the company's executive vice president of software, is the world's largest open source company. But there have been bumps in the company's open source path, company officials recognized.

"I'm here to say that we've learned a lot about what to do and what not to do over the last several years," said Ian Murdock, Sun vice president of developer and community marketing and former CTO of the Linux Foundation. Sun has even made a few mistakes, Murdock said.

Asked afterward which mistakes he was referring to, Murdock cited Sun's brush with controversy in establishing a separate community around the OpenSolaris Image Packaging System (IPS). The system simplifies installation and integration with third-party systems. Murdock then characterized the ordeal as more of a transition than a mistake.

Sun is doing open source in a scale that has never been done before, he said.

Sun also had to cope with unrealistic expectations about how much time it would take to offer Java via open source under the GNU General Public License Version 2.0, a move made in November 2006.

"There was the expectation that it would be immediately carried into the universe," Green said. But it has taken time to free up the bits and pieces of Java to make it available via open source, Green acknowledged.

Now, the Ubuntu Linux distribution includes OpenJDK, featuring open source Java, Green noted. This move announced last week means the open-sourcing is complete, he said.

Pondering the potential clash between open source and business interests, Marten Mickos, senior vice president of the Sun database group and former CEO of recent Sun acquisition MySQL, cited how some extensions to MySQL have not been made available to everyone.

For example, the company does not give away its MySQL Enterprise Monitor service, which helps diagnose and manage the database. "This is a tool that we give to paying customers only," said Mickos. But the MySQL database is and always shall be free and open source, he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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