Nexenta, an open-source organization that’s been trying to “combine the OpenSolaris kernel with the GNU/Debian user experience,” has announced a new open-source effort called Illumos. Nexenta proclaims this “is a 100% community-driven and -owned effort that aims to provide an alternative to a critical part of the OpenSolaris distribution, freeing it from dependence on Oracle’s good will.”
Oracle’s good will has been noticeably missing towards OpenSolaris. Oracle has essentially ignored OpenSolaris and paid no attention to the OpenSolaris Governing Board. Nexenta observed in their announcement that “Oracle has significantly reduced their support for OpenSolaris as a distribution.” But according to Simon Phipps, Sun’s former chief open-source officer and an Illumos supporter, this effort is not meant to be a fork of OpenSolaris,.
So if it’s not a fork, what is Illumos? In a webinar on August 3, 2010, Garrett D’Amore, the leader of the Illumos project, explained: “Illumos is a derivative, a child of OS/NET, which is Solaris/OpenSolaris’s foundation. The design is to make it 100% application binary interface (ABI)-compliant with OS/NET.” Garrett previously worked on Solaris for Sun and Oracle and is now the senior director of engineering at Nexenta.
While not an operating system distribution in and of itself, Illumos is meant to serve as the basis for distributions. According to D’Amore, it’s also “designed to solve the key problem of OpenSolaris: Not all of OpenSolaris is open source.” For example, the libc_i18n, which is a component needed to build a working C library is essential for C programming in OpenSolaris — and it’s closed source. In addition, the NFS (Network File System) lock mechanism, portions of the cryptography code and numerous critical device driver are not open source.
The bottom line is that, today, you can’t boot either OpenSolaris or Illumos without Oracle’s proprietary bits. D’Amore hopes to have that changed by year’s end.