Indiana's Calling, Is Anyone Listening?

Monday Jul 30th 2007 by Brian Proffitt

Telling the story of Project Indiana is not an easy one. LinuxPlanet talked with several members of Sun's OpenSolaris team to discern just what the deal is.

Telling the story of Project Indiana is not an easy one.

The Sun Microsystems initiative, designed to create a binary-compatible distribution of OpenSolaris, has drawn what could be considered fair comparisons between the future structure of OpenSolaris and the current state of the various Linux distributions.

Thus, headlines like "Sun hopes for Linux-like Solaris" or "Sun OpenSolaris to become more 'Linux-like'" are published, with similarly themed articles.

The problem is, some of this coverage is not quite on the mark.

The difficulty arises from the fact that many analysts and media are basing their observations on preconceptions of Linux. Mention "distribution" and you might immediately assume that OpenSolaris is becoming some sort of Linux clone, or some such. It is with these preconceptions that this reporter sat down with Ian Murdock, Chief Operating Platforms Officer at Sun, and members of the OpenSolaris team at OSCON this week.

The first thing to understand is the goals of Project Indiana itself.

"We came into this with an understanding of what we needed to do, which was in a world where so many more people know Linux than Solaris, how do we figure out how to make the wonderful technology in Solaris more accessible?" Murdock explained.

To break the Project down, Indiana is meant to create a binary distribution of OpenSolaris within the OpenSolaris community, not inside Sun proper. This is not to say Sun employees aren't involved in the process. Teams within Sun are working on various aspects of the project, such as installation, packaging, and GNU userland. In fact, Murdock said, some of these efforts have been going on for some time.

But keeping the Project based in the OpenSolaris community is essential to project organizers, because the process itself is open and transparent. Indiana serves as an umbrella for all of the in-house and community efforts to gear OpenSolaris towards a single, larger goal: the binary-compatible distribution of OpenSolaris.

In the past few weeks Murdock and the OpenSolaris team are reframing the message that Solaris is becoming more Linux-like into what the Project's true goals are.

"Really what we're doing is adopting the distribution model, that Linux has made successful." Murdock explained. "And then using that as a way to bring all of these projects both within Sun and in the OpenSolaris community together and then package it and present it to the world in a way they can understand. So what does adopting the distribution model mean? And isn't there already a binary Solaris distribution in the form of Nexenta?

"The current OpenSolaris is like the," Murdock said. "So, it's the code base. When Sun open sourced Solaris two years ago, it put the code for Solaris into the OpenSolaris community. It still takes that code and brings it back inside Sun and creates the Solaris product from it. And other groups, Nexenta is one of them and there are a few others, have built distributions around that same code base.

"What we're saying is instead of having a and a whole bunch of distributions model, what we need is for OpenSolaris not only to be the code base but to be a tangible binary thing," he added.

More importantly, this binary thing will be binary compatible, something that not all Linux distributions have achieved. In the Linux world, it is only through efforts such as the Linux Standard Base, which is trying to enforce a standard compatibility after the fact. When Project Indiana is finished, the OpenSolaris team will be creating the model for all distributions, now and in the future to remain compatible with the original OpenSolaris distribution.

By doing this, it makes OpenSolaris, in whatever form, something that is much more easier to target for open source developers and independent software vendors. Getting into this form also gives OpenSolaris the added boost of making it easier to obtain for developers and early adopters.

The implementation of this model is going to be quite a change for Sun, Murdock indicated. Traditionally, Sun has been a top-down distributor of its Solaris product. Now it will need to learn to be a bottom-up provider.

The first test release for Project Indiana is is scheduled for this October, according to Sara Dornsife of OpenSolaris Marketing, with the first release rolling out in the Spring of 2008. The project will have six-month development cycle after that.

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