The liberation of OpenSolaris
As many have seen, Oracle has elected to stop contributing to OpenSolaris. This decision is, to put it bluntly, stupid. Indeed, I would (and did) liken it to L. Paul Bremer‘s decision to disband the Iraqi military after the fall of Saddam Hussein: beyond merely a foolish decision borne out of a distorted worldview, it has created combatants unnecessarily. As with Bremer’s infamous decision, the bitter irony is that the new combatants were formerly the strongest potential allies — and in Oracle’s case, it is the community itself.
As it apparently needs to be said, one cannot close an open source project — one can only fork it. So contrary to some reports, Oracle has not decided to close OpenSolaris, they have actually decided to fork it. That is, they have (apparently) decided that it is more in their interest to compete with the community that to cooperate with it — that they can in fact out-innovate the community. This confidence is surprising (and ironic) given that it comes exactly at the moment that the historic monopoly on Solaris talent has been indisputably and irrevocably broken — as most recently demonstrated by the departure of my former colleague, Adam Leventhal.
Adam’s case is instructive: Adam is a brilliantly creative engineer — one with whom it was my pleasure to work closely over nearly a decade. Time and time again, I saw Adam not only come up with innovative solutions to tough problems, but run those innovations through the punishing gauntlet that separates idea from product. One does not replace an engineer like Adam; one can only hope to grow another. And given his nine years of experience at the company and in the guts of the system, one cannot expect to grow a replacement quickly — if at all. Oracle’s loss, however, is the community’s gain; I hope I’m not tipping his hand too much to say that Adam will continue to be deeply engaged in the system, leading a new generation of engineers — but this time within a larger community that spans multiple companies and interests.
And in this way, odd as it may be, Oracle’s decision to fork is actually a relief to those of us whose businesses depend on OpenSolaris: instead of waiting for Oracle to engage the community, we can be secure in the knowledge that no engagement is forthcoming — and we can invest and plan accordingly. So instead of waiting for Oracle to fix a nagging driver bug or address a critical request for enhancement (a wait that has more often than not ended in disappointment anyway), we can tap our collective expertise as a community. And where that expertise doesn’t exist or is otherwise unavailable, those of us who are invested in the system can explicitly invest in building it — and then use it to give back to the community and contribute.
Speaking for Joyent, all of this has been tangibly liberating: just the knowledge that we are going to be cranking our own builds has allowed us to start thinking along new dimensions of innovation, giving us a renewed sense of control over our stack and our fate. I have already seen this shift in our engineers, who have begun to conceive of ideas that might not have been thought practical in a world in which Oracle’s engagement was so uncertain. Yes, hard problems lie ahead — but ideas are flowing, and the future feels alive with possibility; in short, innovation is afoot!