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Simon Phipps

With a focus on open source and digital rights, Simon is a director of the UK's Open Rights Group and president of the Open Source Initiative. He is also managing director of UK consulting firm Meshed Insights Ltd.

A Considered Future For OpenSolaris

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You may have seen some of the news reporting of the OpenSolaris Governing Board (OGB) meeting that was held last Monday (I am an elected member of the Board). At a meeting with an unusually large number of community observers, we discussed how to respond to the 100% radio silence the OGB has experienced from the new owners of the OpenSolaris copyright and infrastructure. I believe we reached a balanced and well-considered conclusion and remain hopeful of a good outcome.

Given our mandate to facilitate the OpenSolaris community, a key requirement - called out explicitly in the governance documents for OpenSolaris - is to have a liaison provided by Oracle to help the OGB understand the direction they have chosen for both their infrastructure provision and their dominant coding activity. Without a liaison, it's impossible to discuss and escalate infrastructure issues (such as the fact that the membership management facilities on OpenSolaris.org do not match the new Constitution voted in by the membership this spring, or the fact that the main kernel for OpenSolaris is not available for commits on the public internet) as well as to understand the strategy around the code (such as the apparent de-emphasis of the OpenSolaris distribution, telegraphed by engineering changes and the lack of an on-time release).

Given the obvious changes from the way Sun engaged the OpenSolaris community, the many staffing changes apparent on the grapevine, the responses to practical requests from the good folk in Solaris engineering and the lack of an official liaison, it became obvious to the OGB quite some time ago that Oracle is not interested in the sort of OpenSolaris open source community that the Charter envisages. A new approach is obviously required and the OGB would like to get on with positively facilitating it. That's why we have been reaching out formally and informally to get the liaison we need.

But nothing has happened. Despite personal reassurances to OGB members, there was no Oracle representative at the meeting last Monday and we decided that, after this long sequence of silences, we needed to take a more public step in the hope of getting the contacts we need to do our job. That's why we unanimously agreed the following motion:

The OGB is keen to promote the uptake and open development of OpenSolaris and to work on behalf of the community with Oracle, as such the OGB needs Oracle to appoint a liaison by August 16, 2010, who has the authority to talk about the future of OpenSolaris and its interaction with the OpenSolaris community. Otherwise the OGB will take action at the August 23 meeting to trigger the clause in the OGB charter that will return control of the community to Oracle.

Contrary to the comments of regular detractors of the OGB, this is not a sudden "temper tantrum"; rather, it is the penultimate step in a long sequence of considered steps to try to act in the intents of the OpenSolaris community we represent. As fellow OGB member Peter Tribble says:

Continuing on, or waiting indefinitely, merely perpetuates a lie. All is not well, and we would all be foolish to believe that it is. To do so would simply be delusional.

There are two choices for the final step. In one, the OGB are able to liaise effectively with empowered Oracle staff to devise a new direction for the OpenSolaris community. The other is one we hope we will not need to take, of recognizing we have no further means available to act and using the formal mechanism defined in the OpenSolaris governance for exactly this situation. Here's hoping.

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