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Oracle Bureaucracy Makes OpenSolaris Users Very Tense

04.15.2010
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Over a month ago, Oracle executive Dan Roberts tried to dispel rumors about the 'death' of OpenSolaris: "Oracle will continue to make OpenSolaris available as open source, and Oracle will continue to actively support and participate in the community," said Roberts.  However, Oracle's recent halting of the free OpenSolaris CD shipping program along with a delayed release of the 2010.03 version without any explanation have renewed tensions among the OpenSolaris Community.  The OpenSolaris Governance Board (OGB), which includes open source champion Simon Phipps, has issued a "Call for Action" in response.

Oracle's Derek Cicero posted on the OpenSolaris website mailing list yesterday saying that links and icons related to the free CD program have been removed.  The download for OpenSolaris is still available, but the tensions of the OpenSolaris community have risen once again.  The first time was in February, the first month after the Sun acquisition's approval, when the Oracle website posted an "End of Service Life Status for OpenSolaris Operating System" document and some news outlets found an opportunity to cry 'murder'.  Oracle representatives, about a week later stated that the document was aimed at describing how service life works - it was not an End of Life announcement.

New releases of OpenSolaris will continue Oracle says, but according to Ben Rockwood, there have been delays in the six month development cycle and no status updates have been given by Oracle.  This has led Rockwell to put forth a "Call for Action" regarding Oracle's lack of transparency:  "We've all wanted great clarity from Oracle regarding a great many things, but the extent to which this board has the authority to demand answers is highly questionable (even Sun wouldn't provide them)."

Simon Phipps, who recently left Oracle and is now a member of the OSI and the OGB, responded to comments on the Call for Action thread.  Some community members suggested forking OpenSolaris and becoming completely autonomous.  Phipps however, believes the time to fork hasn't arrived yet.  Phipps agreed with the following statement:

"Asking for autonomy at this juncture would be very foolish I think.  If they grant it, they will essentially expect us to fork and re-establish the community without Sun/Oracle resources.  That means the website goes, communication is severed, employees are instructed not to putback to the autonomous codebase, etc.  I think it would go very very badly and we'd essentially help kill the community."

Phipps said that one option would be to start requesting regular, simple status updates on OpenSolaris from CGs.  This might help reduce tensions between the community and Oracle, who certainly doesn't need OpenSolaris since they already do plenty of business with Red Hat Linux, Windows, AIX, Ubuntu, and proprietary Solaris.

The issue right now for not only OpenSolaris, but also MySQL, GlassFish, and other projects has been the frustrating Oracle bureaucracy.  Phipps understands the situation well:

"If you want forward-looking information, only a person authorized by Oracle's executives will be able to deliver it. That's /the/ key difference from a community perspective between Sun and Oracle; Oracle strictly prohibits even senior staff from providing forward-looking information in public. There is no point whatever asking Oracle staff members for forward-looking information about any aspect of OpenSolaris until they have been explicitly authorized to deliver it.

I gather from private communications that, whatever we may think about it, Oracle's decision-makers are truly still discussing several major issues, all the way up to Mr Ellison.  They will need to get closure on a few more of these before they themselves agree what their plan for engaging with OpenSolaris will be going forward. While this is deeply frustrating, the only consequence of repeatedly asking Oracle staff for forward-looking information will be harm to our relationships together.

I've sent a personal note to Dan Roberts and he will be pleased to attend the next OGB meeting to share whatever he can. Going forward, the OGB needs to ensure it has regular contact with whoever Oracle authorises to share information with the community."

Oracle inherited numerous communities around Sun technologies when it completed the merger.  Now they must carefully consider their policies in dealing with those communities or else there could be even more frustration.  Oracle also can't afford to be indecisive while the communities are left hanging.  OpenSolaris 2010.03 is still expected within a few weeks.