Illumos Makes OpenSolaris Board Threat Moot

On August 3 Nexenta hosted a conference call to announce a new open source project called "Illumos." Illumos is an open source alternative to a critical part of the OpenSolaris distribution free from the binds of Oracle. Still several days short of the deadline set by the OpenSolaris governing board to Oracle, perhaps this announcement makes it all moot.

The effort is headed up by former Sun and Oracle Solaris developer Garrett D'Amore. He said that Illumos is not a fork of OpenSolaris, but more of a code base that perhaps Nexenta, Belenix, and SchilliX can be built on one day. Most important to D'Amore and Illumos supporters is that the code base will live on and be free from the control of any corporate entity.

There is proprietary code in OpenSolaris that still needs to be replaced. D'Amore hopes to eliminate that by the end of the year, but it's a large task even with the talented developers already committed to the project. The goal is to be 100% open source and perhaps to eventually release Illumos under the Apache2 license.

Since Oracle is ignoring community developers and their code as much as the board, the community has all but dissolved. Illumos could give developers a place to innovate. D'Amore is hoping to recreate the community development phenomena found with Linux and the resulting distributions.

With the days counting down to the probable disbanding of the board and the constant threat of losing access to the source, Illumos might be all that remains of OpenSolaris sooner or later. Several distributions are based on OpenSolaris now, and its loss could have spelled disaster for those systems. That's why most of them as well as several current and former OpenSolaris developers have committed to Illumos. Other community partners include Joyent, berliOS, Greenviolet, and Everycity.

D'Amore said that if Oracle shuts down OpenSolaris, then time would be right for a fork, but for now they have invited Oracle to collaborate. As one might expect, Oracle has yet to respond. While Illumos is being developed in case of shut out or as an alternative, it may turn out to be the savior of the code. In fact, with enough interest from the right people, Illumos could replace OpenSolaris in the hearts and minds of all concerned.


Susan Linton is a Linux writer and the owner of


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jonny rocket's picture

i like pie. and ubuntu.

First name sucks. Something

anonymous's picture

First name sucks. Something more catchy than illumos would be good start. Second the closed-source compiler is not so easily redistributable to newcomers legally once oracle removes it. Third flash player was paid & contracted by oracle which means they can insist adobe add a clause to prevent it from installing on non-solaris platform legally crppling browsing. plus you wont get updates to kernel.

i believe it is doomed before it can start.

*Excellent* Article on this

Doug.Roberts's picture

This article provides an excellent history of the OpenSolaris project, and how Sun is primarily to blame for its failure. This quote in particular is dead on:

OpenSolaris has always been a bad idea. Not to detract from the quality of Solaris — the operating system certainly has its advantages and surpasses my favorite OS (Linux, in case that wasn’t obvious) in some ways. But software freedom and community were bolted onto Solaris at the last minute as Sun was gasping for air and trying to remain relevant in the face of Linux. Sun folks, well ex-Sun folks these days, like to talk about how good Sun was to open source — but conveniently neglect the years that Sun fought open source and Linux kicking and screaming until it was too popular to ignore. OpenSolaris was not a friendly attempt to embrace community, it was a desperate attempt to remain relevant while Linux ate away at Solaris market share. OpenSolaris was largely an attempt by Sun to steer developers and companies away from Linux onto its turf.



Turbotad's picture

Personally, I always really wanted to be able to use OpenSolaris as a server platform, as I had a host of AMD-based Sun servers which I also was quite partial to. I think that OpenSolaris had a lot of innovative features and a really bright bunch of developers in the community who were interested in it. Regardless of relative competitiveness with Linux, I'm just appalled at the disrespect that Oracle has shown the OpenSolaris development community - and really the Sun community as a whole. Even the fact of INSTANTLY re-branding all Sun creations as "Oracle" and making even their quite excellent servers take a back seat to everything on the website makes me think that Ellison thinks that he bought a big loser company that at least could offer him a way of manhandling MySQL directly.

Well, *I'm* excited!

ricegf's picture

I'm a huge fan of free software and a loyal user of Linux - Ubuntu on my desktop and netbook, and Maemo on my phone. I use Windows, Solaris and Red Hat Linux at work.

I'm not in the market for a Linux replacement, but I welcome Illumos as a potential future alternative. Choice Is Good. Godspeed to the fledgling free Unix!

Has good potential

Anonymous's picture

One thing about opensolaris is that it does have quite a lot of potential. All it really needs is focus devoted to it. I may have to go check out the apache2 lic. I know of it, but not any of its details. What would really rock, is if it gained serious momentum in Audio / Video / 3d gaming ect. It already has a serious Work Ethic attached to it, so adding a fairly serious Play Ethic to that would make for a convincing platform to move to.

Best of luck in the future!

Couldn't get excited about OpenSolaris

Doug.Roberts's picture

I can tell I'm gonna have trouble getting excited about Illumos.



obx_ruckle's picture

I'm curious as to why you would have trouble getting excited?

Ugly stepchild

Doug.Roberts's picture

Sun did a very sketchy job of supporting Open Solaris. Sun's management really did not like the idea of producing a free product that would compete with their bread and butter Solaris hardware and software product line. As a result, the Intel version of Open Solaris never did work very well, because it was only given minimal development resources by Sun.

Sun's revenues depended on selling proprietary hardware running a proprietary OS. They never did figure out a way to compete against cheap Intel hardware and Linux. They tried crippling the Intel version of Open Solaris, but it certainly did not work for them.

We already have Linux, open BSD, and Mac OSX for the consumer market. Who needs another Un*x-like OS? Not me.



SomeTom's picture

We already have Linux, open BSD, and Mac OSX for the consumer market. Who needs another Un*x-like OS? Not me.

Obviously not - as Solaris is not exactly targeted at the consumer market.

Already dead

Doug.Roberts's picture

Both Solaris and Open Solaris have been dying a slow death since the mid 90's. Sun was a company whose entire business model revolved around selling a proprietary OS on proprietary hardware, but not for the general desktop user. Apple is making that same business model work by selling to the general consumer for laptop and desktop usage. Sun targeted their product at the business market, but suddenly found that they could not compete against cheap Intel hardware and Linux.

With Sun's having been purchased by Oracle, I think the final nails have been driven in the coffins of both Solaris, and its black sheep cousin OpenSolaris.


You have no idea about what

Anonymous's picture

You have no idea about what you are talking about. Have you ever used opensolaris ?


Doug.Roberts's picture

I also knew some of the developers. It was not a happy project, nor was it a happy time for Sun. McNealy was driving the company into the ground with his inability to adapt to the new market dynamics in which a vendor of proprietary hardware and proprietary OS did not stand a chance against the emergent Intel-based Linux platforms. The early versions of OpenSolaris were buggy and slow, and were far behind Linux in terms of user adoption. Why do you think OpenSolaris it never caught on?

We were using (closed) Solaris at the time (80's - 90's) in my group at Los Alamos Natl Lab, and it was ok in terms of stability and functionality, but not in terms of performance. In the late 90's and early 2000's Sun had already lost both the OS and the hardware wars. OpenSolaris for Intel hardware, in comparison to their closed product, was buggy and had performance issues. Also, it offered inferior hardware support compared to the Linux distributions that were predominant at the time: RH, Debian, and Slackware.

Try again ...

Anonymous's picture

Given that your chronology is incorrect, I guess you weren't really paying attention to what was going on when.


Doug.Roberts's picture

Kind of like now. Who are you, again?