Friday, November 02, 2007

Is Indiana close to Nirvana?

If I can install Debian I can install Solaris

Earlier, I explored what the world would be like if I were the Sun King: In short, Solaris would rival Ubuntu for the role of desktop open software operating system, and Sun would be back in the game in desktop computing.

With Project Indiana, Sun has brought itself within reach of that goal. Project Indiana is what happens when you give the task of creating a Solaris distribution to one of the founders of Debian: A customer-friendly experience with Ubuntu/RHD-like ease of installation and maintenance. Ubuntu still rules the desktop ease of installation rankings, but getting Solaris on your machine is no longer “daunting” - merely not as bulletproof as Ubuntu.

Now that a Sun OS is within the grasp of mere mortals, or merely those who would rather not spend an afternoon screwing with an unfriendly installer, what next?

The boundaries of the Sun King's domain

What does Sun bring to the desktop? What should Sun want to bring to the desktop? A reasonable straw man for Sun's goals can be summed up as “If I intend to do some Java coding, I should want to use Sun's distro for that purpose.” That's not taking over the world, but it's a good start at taking over a large number of the opinion leaders in open source desktop OSs.

What are the ingredients of a killer Java developer's distro? To sum it up: a dose of realism and a dash of Sun's vision:

  • It will have to acknowledge that Eclipse and Apache are key elements of many Java projects.

  • It should project a vision of Java development that Sun wants to see happen: NetBeans and GlassFish, both of which are very worthy competitors.

  • It should provide examples of Java in action: The desktop should be a Java desktop, and applications running on Glassfish should ship with Solaris, along with client applications written in Java/Swing.

  • It should show contributions from Java technology to FOSS software development needs, such as using NetBeans to edit and debug mainstream FOSS applications written in C.

What makes a modern desktop

Linux is a rapidly growing choice for the desktop because it is a blank slate: Your choice of Gnome, KDE, Enlightenment, etc. for desktops, and a wide choice of applications in a staggering number of application categories on a system that gets out of your way to let you customize. Sun should aim off to one side of Linux. Solaris should become the OS X of open source distributions: It should be clean, uncluttered, and preconfigured. It should target current-generation desktop PCs to the possible exclusion of low-spec hardware. It should be great looking and more than a little sexy.


Sun's near-term goal should be to seduce the opinion leaders in open source software. That will require give and take, and it will require understanding that audience. Sun's own employees should be a good pool of open source opinion leaders, and tapping that resource is largely a matter of Sun taking an unequivocal position on its own goals and intentions in open source.

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