Sun’s OpenSolaris community fracas: not just a name thing

While I was at Sun last week I was following the discussion in the OpenSolaris community about the naming and repositioning exercise which saw a Project Indiana become the official OpenSolaris distribution. Some of the external members most deeply involved in OpenSolaris were immensely frustrated not by the decision itself, but by the way it was made and announced, with little consultation of those who were supposedly governing OpenSolaris. It was exactly this issue which provoked Ben Rockwood’s post which I quoted in a blog post on 15th February and again in The Guardian. Unfortunately I didn’t see Roy Fielding’s post resigning from the OpenSolaris community until later, otherwise I would likely have quoted him as well:

This well is poisoned; the company has consumed its own future and any pretense that the projects will ever govern themselves (as opposed to being governed by whatever pointy-haired boss is hiding behind the scenes) is now a joke. Sun should move on, dissolve the charter that it currently ignores, and adopt the governing style of MySQL. That company doesn’t pretend to let their community participate in decisions, and yet they still manage to satisfy most of their users.

On 14th February I spoke to Rich Green, Sun’s Executive Vice President, Software, and asked him to clarify the changes to OpenSolaris:

This is one of those classic “what’s in a name” things. OpenSolaris is a community, is a source code base, and is the distro from Sun Microsystems. We’re going to put a lot of energy into it, not only in terms of the quality of the technology, but the business model around it, very much akin to other open source programs focusing on subscriptions and support, but that open source base is out there for other distros to be derived, and we encourage them. There was a naming complexion change, but the feedback from the community was mostly, not uniformly, it never is uniformly: thank you, for clarifying what we all expected you to do. Thanks for putting your name and brand behind a distribution of the source code base which is out there. And thank you for moving it out into the open so others can do the same. So that’s where we are, that’s where we’ll stay. The reaction has been generally, never uniformly, very positive.

I didn’t realise at the time that “not uniformly” included the resignation of such a prominent member of OpenSolaris – Fielding’s post is dated just after midnight on the previous evening. However, Green is correct in saying that many see the decision itself as sensible, which makes this whole fracas rather unnecessary. Fielding makes further comment here.

Of course this is not really a naming thing, it is about how Sun relates to the community it is building around its open source projects, and to which it attaches huge importance. I lost count of how many times CEO Jonathan Schwartz and others used the community word to describe how it would create new business opportunities and monetize its open source efforts. Quite possibly Sun misjudged the impact of the way this particular decision was made, but in a way that is the point; it is a failure of relationship, and suggests that Sun wants to maintain tight control of its software even though it has made the decision to make it free and open source. I asked Schwartz about this but did not get a particularly illuminating response.

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