Understanding OpenSolaris & Its Governance

25 May '10 - 00:46 by benr

I've discussed this many times before, but the reality still alludes many in our community. Therefore let me speak plainly such that you may understand.

OpenSolaris is not an open source project in the traditional sense. It can not and should not be thought of as such. If you attempt to do so you will only be frustrated and confused.

We have today seen yet another example of such a misunderstanding, when a community member wished to have a community leader punished by the OGB for failing (in his mind) to appropriately act in the best spirit of open source ideals. The specifics of the incident are irrelevant.

"OpenSolaris" as an "open source community" is little more than scaffolding around Solaris Engineering. There is a community structure, but its not really used. There is a governance and governing board, but they have no power and do nothing of significance. You can't put back (ie: commit) to ON directly and must sign a contrib agreement to even submit code, which is only actually commited at the sole discretion of Sun/Oracle employees (typically your assigned "sponsor").

Consider my analogy: scaffolding. Scaffolding allows you to navigate the exterior of a structure, to look in to the exterior windows on each level, to build things onto the exterior, or repair cracks and such, so on and so forth. Scaffolding doesn't allow you to climb through the windows. You can knock on the glass and point at things, but you aren't inside that structure... your on the outside, looking in.

So it is with OpenSolaris. Oracle owns the structure. We can't see into its inner rooms, only those with windows to the exterior. We have the ability to look in, suggest or propose or create changes or additions, but we can only hand them to others who actually have access. We can repair the outside of the structure or create custom additions, but no one on the inside of that structure needs to be involved, since its no part of the primary structure itself. We can chat with other folks on the scaffolding, share ideas and fellowship, but we're still on the outside. Those on the inside may choose to open a window to communicate with us, but only if they choose to do so.

Compare this with what you hear people say about OpenSolaris. I'll include myself. We like to think we're inside that building, along side everyone else. And we're not. We are only as empowered as the good employees of Oracle choose to let us be, through their sponsorship. And this is never guaranteed anywhere... its purely based on their good will.

If you consider the constitution of OpenSolaris, it defines within it a social organization. The conventional word would be: club. And that's what OpenSolaris is... a club. Little more, little less.

Whats important to you, my faithful reader, is to embrace the reality of this and then leverage it. If you dilute yourself, as I did for many years, into believing that you have some power or ability beyond influence, you will simply frustrate yourself and become ineffective.

What OpenSolaris provides is an amazing amount of access. The developers are available to you (CG/Project forums), the code is available to you, parts of the decision making process are available to you (ie: ARC, CR's, etc), the support structure is available to you (bug databases), and more. You are not an Oracle employee and you are not in Solaris Engineering... but you can hang out with the folks who are. You can help them, you can talk to them, you can influence them, you can even send code their way. At the end of the day, they are going to do what they and their superiors (now that they have them, har har), instruct them to... but a little constructive and friendly influence can go a long long way in this world.

The harsh reality is, that if you don't like this, you need to consider your options. Many of us have fought hard against it already and failed again and again and again, and only made enemies along the way. If you don't like it, consider starting your own project based on the code. Build onto that structure all you wish. Nexenta has done it very successfully, so has Belenix, and Blastwave too. Those projects are successful and strong, but they don't penetrate into the structure, that is, into Solaris Engineering. They stand independently.

One of the advantages of IPS will be that once a repo is added to your publishers list, you no longer thing about where the package comes from. Blastwave has traditionally provided add on packages in /opt/csw... clearly seperated from the OS. In the future, they will overlay the OS seamlessly. Therefore, consider a situation, such as above, in which the Sun version of some package isn't what you wish it to be? Simply create your own version, publish it on your repo, and then go tell the community that a better version is available, please add it to their publisher list and install it. Viva la revolution. This, is the way to effect change, far more effectively than pounding and yelling through the glass.

I really have a desire to see the anger, bitterness, and cynicism die away from our great community. Consider the venerable Sun-Net-Mangers list... perhaps the best support list ever. Resources such as this have existed in the Solaris community for almost two decades, without Sun/Oracle involvement. We, as a community, have a lot of capability with or without Sun/Oracle. Lets not loose that can-do spirit. Re-kindle that passion, leverage the OpenSolaris community for what it really is, and make good things happen.

- - C O M M E N T S - -

It’s all a matter of perspective and expectations. If you compare OpenSolaris to AIX/HP-UX, it’s as open as it can ever be. Focus on the Linux/BSD way and you’ll be frustrated.

A little reinforcement from Oracle/Sun regarding their vision would help to dissipate the frustration. But I don’t see it happening so it’s good when someone is willing to make it clear, thanks for that.

However, I think it’s clear that opportunities to reap the benefits of a more involved community are being missed everyday. My recent frustration is the silence regarding something as stupid as approving the usage of the OpenSolaris logo on t-shirts. In other words, marketing for free.

As you’ve pointed out, I suggest people don’t waste their time swimming against the current. When, and if, Oracle/Sun decide to change course I hope they’ll still have people willing to follow to their vision.

Giovanni (Email) (URL) - 25 May '10 - 03:43

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ed hardy t shirts (Email) (URL) - 25 May '10 - 08:13

allude and dilute -> elude

Sorry man, they kinda screamed me in the face. :(

woop dee (Email) - 25 May '10 - 09:43

A very mature view of the situation, thanks. In another analogy, people need to understand that Sun is no longer free, it has “married” to Oracle and has other responsibilities, like making money to keep the house. That party may be over, but not the friendship.

marcelo - 25 May '10 - 12:11

You mean the Sun-Managers / SunManagers list, I assume?


I just realized that I’ve been its maintainer / listmaster for ten years now. Wow.

Bill Bradford (Email) (URL) - 25 May '10 - 13:36

Nice that someone is finally telling it like it is. The name OpenSolaris being such a misnomer as to further such misunderstandings and expectations in order to leverage a bit of marketing mileage. Perhaps we should start referencing it a ScaffoldSolaris…..

btw- I think you meant s/dilute/delude ;-)


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tamr - 25 May '10 - 15:19

Based on evidence so far, unless some new development occurs or is occurring at this time unbeknown to me, I’d say the jig is up.

It would appear that the Oracle corporation doesn’t really rightly know what to do with the Solaris community.

For example, when I was doing Oracle for a living, I was shocked when I realized that Oracle’s idea of a “user group”, is a “special interest group” ran in a very formal way, with registered speakers/presenters, marketing, and is run strictly during local-time core business hours, and membership dues must be paid for on a yearly basis.

My suggestion to meet on Saturday was met with utter disbelief; apparently, what I and Oracle consider to be a “user group” and how the former should function (informal versus formal) were two completely different worlds.

Based on this experience, it is not surprising that Oracle, doesn’t know what to do with the OpenSolaris community.

If one looks at history of Oracle, Oracle corporation does not have her end users do any kind of work / engineering on Oracle products. They are treated strictly as customers, even if they be members of Oracle technology network, OTN.

If I also take into consideration that Oracle is a huge corporation, I know from experience that big businesses are not agile enough to respond to such drastic changes in situation. By the time the effects of suddenly having an open source community working on one’s product are understood, they pass X managerial meetings, discussions, approvals, and manage to percolate through the organization, any sane person from outside will have simply given up.

Because let’s face the harsh reality: these people have other choices of technologies to work on where they won’t have to jump through the hoops and deal with a completely dumbfounded organization, and they have a choice of joining other communities where they won’t have these particular artificial constraints imposed upon them.

All of that is why I have reason to believe that the jig is up.

UX-admin (Email) - 25 May '10 - 18:56

You can’t put back (ie: commit) to ON directly and must sign a contrib agreement to even submit code, which is only actually commited at the sole discretion of Sun/Oracle employees (typically your assigned “sponsor”).

It’s important to note that while direct commit access for non-Oracle community members may not yet be available for ON, it is available for many other projects on opensolaris.org.

For example, the pkg(5) project, JDS, ksh93, and others all allow direct commit access to their repository from any opensolaris.org community member that has been granted access by that project.

Therefore, consider a situation, such as above, in which the Sun version of some package isn’t what you wish it to be? Simply create your own version, publish it on your repo, and then go tell the community that a better version is available, please add it to their publisher list and install it. Viva la revolution.

Exactly! For example, many community members are disappointed that new development builds aren’t being made available in pre-packaged form.

There is nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, stopping someone from setting up their own alternative pkg(5) repository and providing updated ON, SFW, and JDS packages to users. And if done right, those packages would seamlessly overlay the most recent dev build (134).

And yes, there are people outside of Oracle building current versions of ON right now, like the folks at greenviolet.net, greenbytes.com, richlowe.net, and Nexenta.

This is probably the most discouraging and disappointing thing about the situation. The tools are there, the community is completely empowered to build upon the OpenSolaris distribution or to even create their own (as Moinak and others have done). Yet, no one has stepped up to this challenge.

This is a chance for other community members to step up and shine; to contribute something valuable and worthwhile to the greater OpenSolaris community.

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I wish I had read this a few weeks ago. I think it’s a shame that certain elements of OpenSolaris presents itself as far more “true open source” than it is. It seems to me people are rightly frustrated when the site holds out a very clear invitation to get involved, but doesn’t take the time to frankly say what it really is. And what it really is is still outstanding. But if no on really wants your help unless they’ve actually told you that in person and you know the right people and they trust you and so a sponsor will guide you through, blah blah blah, they have no business intimating that some projects are more open than they are.

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