Linus' Take On Sun, OpenSolaris, and GPL v3

by Caitlyn Martin

There is a very interesting back-and-forth going on between Linux creator Linus Torvalds writing on the Linux kernel mailing list and Jonathan Schwartz, President and CEO of Sun Microsystems writing in his blog. Despite the different fora the two actually seem to be talking to each other as well as their respective audiences.

A year and a half ago Mr. Schwartz posted to his blog about possibly releasing Solaris under dual Open Source licenses, CDDL and GPL v3. Never mind that GPL v3 doesn't exist yet and certainly wasn't finalized a year and a half ago. This was one of Sun's many pronouncements about their support for Open Source that seemed to have very little substance behind it.

Fast forward to yesterday and Linus' post to the kernel mailing list in a discussion about the possibility of dual licensing the kernel under GPL v2 and v3. While Linus acknowledges positive contributions made by Sun he is very skeptical about their motives and about what, if anything, interesting they may release under any form of the GPL. While I share his skepticism I applaud his decision to be civil towards Sun and to say that he hopes he's wrong. Read the whole post -- it's very interesting and informative.

Today Jonathan Schwartz responded. I must say he did nothing to allay my skepticism but... at least a discussion is taking place and a Sun commitment to Open Source and the GPL has been reiterated.


Bruce Heralde
2007-06-13 21:28:55
Why pay $250,000 for WAFL, when you can get ZFS for free... Linus's problem is that OpenSolaris is starting to scare him, he's got no means of differentiation if all the best stuff in Linux comes from OpenSolaris. I hope he understands his credibility might start to wane.
Simon Hibbs
2007-06-14 05:20:30
@Bruce: he's got no means of differentiation if all the best stuff in Linux comes from OpenSolaris

That's only true if OpenSolaris and the technology in it is truly open. If it's closed then Linus has nothing to fear because it will stay in the proprietary realm, hence Linus arguing for Sun to keep their technology proprietary.... er.... hang on a minute! What was your point again?

Derek Singell
2007-06-14 06:36:36
ZFS is in Leopard, and now it's in FreeBSD - looks like Sun's made them open, and now Linus is made he can't join the party!!!
Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-14 08:11:11
Bruce: Linus is not talking about buying WAFL. He is simply comparing the technology to ZFS and pointing out that it is probably superior. He talked about approaching them, not buying anyting. Presumably approaching them would be to talk about Open Sourcing WAFL, not buying it. NetApp support Linux very well indeed and partners with Red Hat.

Derek: Linus isn't mad about anything. Sun's licensing is not, at the moment, compatible with the GPL. The implication of Jonathan Schwartz' response is that ZFS may indeed my available for Linux in the not too distant future.

Simon: You're the only one who seems to understand the points made so far. Sun talks the talk when it comes to Open Source very well indeed. The problem, as Theo de Raadt and others point out, is that they don't walk the walk and really open things, hence Linus' well justified skepticism.

2007-06-14 18:38:22
Seems to be an awful lot of mud being flung at Sun without much substance in this diatribe.

@Caitlyn, you call the CDDL vs. GPL disparity "one of Sun's many pronouncements about their support for Open Source that seemed to have very little substance behind it". Care to cite some others?
And there are plenty in the foss communities who find CDDL is sufficient for their purposes. Not-GPL is equivalent to Not-OSS.

Linus seems to have confused Linux as *the* open source O/S. There's more than one, and OpenSolaris, while not GPL yet, passes all the rational tests of open: open lifecycle, open availability, multiple implementations, interoperability across different systems.

Please elaborate on the "they don't walk the walk" accusation. And please don't cite GPL as evidence.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-14 19:32:36
Scott: Intall the JRE. Read the license terms. It's still not open, is it? For how many years has Sun promised to open Java? I was at Red Hat when they made proprietary purchases with multiple closed licenses to sort out. It didn't take years for them to open things, did it? That's an example of talking the talk but not walking the walk. I'll be happy to find more if you like.

And there are plenty in the foss communities who find CDDL is sufficient for their purposes.

There is no doubt that CDDL has been certified as an Open license by OSI. So, techinically, you are correct that it meets the Open Source definition. There are still problems with it. Despite your insistence that the incompatibilities between the GPL and CDDL as inconsequential I and many others disagree:,1759,1739000,00.asp

Free Software Foundation lists many non-GPL licenses as free. They certainly have issues with CDDL. To quote from the website:

This is a free software license which is not a strong copyleft; it has some complex restrictions that make it incompatible with the GNU GPL. It requires that all attribution notices be maintained, while the GPL only requires certain types of notices. Also, it terminates in retaliation for certain aggressive uses of patents. So, a module covered by the GPL and a module covered by the CDDL cannot legally be linked together. We urge you not to use the CDDL for this reason.

Also unfortunate in the CDDL is its use of the term "intellectual property".

Read Theo de Raadt's comments again. Please tell me what part you disagree with. There is a difference between technically open and truly committed to Open standards and an Open philosophy.

I don't think Linus Torvalds thinks Linux is the only Open Source OS. He may think it's the most important, though, partly because it's his baby and more importantly because it's by far the most popular. Linux has more than double the share in the server market than Solaris does. The BSDs and Open Solaris aren't terribly popular by comparison, are they? That does make Linux important and that does put a significant majority of the Open Source community in the Linux community. That makes the license Linux uses, the GPL, predominant, doesn't it?

Finally, I strongly resent the comment that I am somehow flinging mud at Sun. I have made quite a bit of money administering and consulting on Sun systems. I certainly wish Sun all the success in the world. I still like their high end hardware. I have nothing against their software other than it being propreitary. Sun uses Open Source declarations for P.R. purposes and then procrastinates or fails to open the code time and time again. That's how I see it. That doesn't mean I'm out to get Sun.

Matthew Sporleder
2007-06-14 20:04:06
As has been pointed out here: sun has a lot of software. Some of it is "open" and some of it is not. What do the motives of sun have to do with the fact that the source code for many of their products is now available, and even many of the closed ones are now available free of charge?

This feels like a "KDE uses Qt == bad" discussion.

Cailtyn Martin
2007-06-14 21:16:47
Matthew: I think you've missed the point in rather spectacular fashion. Yes, Sun has both Open and proprietary software. That's fine. What isn't fine is that they tout themselves as this great Open Source company that is making oh so much of their important and valuable software Open when they're not. Sun has every right to develop and sell proprietary software. What they are being called on is being disingenuous about their licensing and their commitment to Open Source. For how many years has Sun promised to release Java under the GPL? The fact is it isn't even released under the CDDL. Look at the JRE license and see the "Sun Microsystems, Inc. Binary Code License Agreement". Binary code as in no released source. A promise still unfulfilled, right?

This bares no resemblance to the issues with QT back in the KDE 1.x era. TrollTech, the folks who develop QT, fully recognized their license wasn't Open and changed it. Their behavior was the antithesis of what Sun is doing. Their decision was commendable. Sun's, to date, are often not.

Matthew Sporleder
2007-06-15 10:11:36
But opensolaris (java wasn't the topic of your post) -is- open under an approved license (


Just because it's not GPL doesn't mean it's not open source. My point about KDE/Qt was that sun (or KDE) is free (as in freedom) to choose to do what they wish in the way they wish. If the GPL doesn't allow easy use of CDDL code, then that's a problem for the users of GPL-licensed code, not an example of sun betraying or misusing the open source world.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-06-15 12:19:23
While Java may not have been included in the title of this article or in Linux Torvalds' posting to LKML it is a relevant example of broken promise by Sun. I have acknowledged that CDDL is an Open Source license. I have also pointed out that Java, which Sun has specifically promised to Open for years, is still, in part, under a truly proprietary binary only license. The subject of the article isn't just OpenSolaris. It's Sun's behavior towards the Open Source community and how it just doesn't match their fine words.

I agree that anyone (KDE, Sun, you name it) is free to release code under any license they wish. If you read my response to Scott you know that I include proprietary code in that statement. KDE developers wanted their code to be truly Open and they managed to achieve that. Sun doesn't want OpenSolaris to be truly Open -- read Theo de Raadt's comments which you seem to be ignoring.

Now, since you seem so concerned about freedom, do I have the freedom to point out when Sun's words don't match their actions? Does Linus Torvalds have that freedom?

Simon Hibbs
2007-06-20 17:15:56
I think this is a key statement in the article: "While Linus acknowledges positive contributions made by Sun he is very skeptical about their motives and about what, if anything, interesting they may release under any form of the GPL"

Yes Sun has released a lot of code in OpenSolaris, but how much of it is interesting? Another Unixy kernel..... Whoop! The whole point about Linux is that it, along with FreeBSD, have comoditized such things. The interesting stuff is things like ZFS, the Java 'secret sauce', etc.

To be fair I don't entirely see a big business case for Sun to open souce much of these things. ZFS is a great commercial advantage they lose if it's opened up completely, but then Java is in danger of losing out massively to competing platforms if it doesn't open up quickly.

The point is Sun dilly dallies about fulfilling it's promisses to open stuff up, and issues wishy-washy excuses. I like Sun, I learned Unix on Sun kit, like Caitlyn I've got no problem with them keeping whatever they like proprietary either, but please could they just try to talk straight on this.