Solar Power (LXF79)
What does he know of Linux who only Linux knows (asks Andrew Gregory)? Well, lots actually, but whatever your specialist subject it's always useful to take a step back and look again at what you know from a different angle. That's why Mike's look at OpenSolaris back in issue 79 is worth reading even now, despite the fact that free software has moved on so much in the intervening five years.
Stonehenge! Town, city of gleaming spires! They did stuff here… but nobody knows what!
Solaris doesn't get anything like the coverage afforded to Linux, but it's very similar under the skin. Like the BSDs and Apple's OS X, Solaris is a variant of the Unix operating system, so any knowledge you've picked up from using Linux will be applicable, with maybe a couple of tweaks, to Solaris. The similarities are obvious even at a glance: OpenSolaris by default comes with the Gnome desktop and many of the desktop applications included in a typical Linux distro.
The main technical differences are in the packaging and the filesystem, and if you're of a technical mind it's fascinating to take a tour of the file structure to see the decisions that the OpenSolaris team have taken. In some ways OpenSolaris has the edge here, as its smaller, more focussed development team has the power to make a sensible decision and stick to it, in contrast to the mess that has resulted from Linux's distributed development model.
But there's another side to the different development models that is entirely in Linux's favour. Because it has a much bigger community of developers and users, Linux has many more applications available for it than OpenSolaris. At the time of writing OpenSolaris had 3,794 packages available; Debian has over 29,000. And the ultimate reason for this, the thing that makes OpenSolaris so fascinating to look at, is the licence. Despite its name, OpenSolaris is distributed under the Common Development and Distribution licence (CDDL), a licence created by Sun Microsystems that, crucially, is incompatible with the GPL. This stymied community involvement in OpenSolaris to such an extent that it’s now just a footnote in the OS annals. It’s what Linux could have been, and its failure shows what an enormous success Linux has become thanks to the GPL, the community and its army of contributors.
A PDF of Mike's Solaris piece can be downloaded from here.
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