Much has been made of the pending open-sourcing (I’m not sure if that’s a verb, but I’ve been up since 3 AM, so cut me some slack) of Sun’s flagship Solaris operating system. There’s certainly no shortage of opinions on the viability of the project, the community implications, and the reasoning behind the move (1, 2). Michael Singer grabbed a few thoughts from yours truly on the subject here.
But Stephen Shankland’s latest has a really intriguing bit of commentary that I had not seen; that some ties may be developing between my Linux distro of choice, Gentoo, and the forthcoming OpenSolaris.
Before people get carried away, relax – no one’s talking about merging the two. Instead, the focus is on porting what I consider to be far and away Gentoo’s distinguishing feature – it’s package management application, Portage – to Solaris.
Without going down too much of a rathole, Portage draws on BSD’s ports system, and is similar in functionality to Debian’s apt-get or NLD/SuSE’s Red Carpet channels. Basically, all of these applications are designed to address one of the issues with Unix style application installation: dependency hell. That condition – often lamented by newcomers to Linux – arises when one tries to install an application that depends on other applications to function properly. Installing the GAIM instant messaging program, for example, requires that you have the GTK libraries that support it.
What Portage does is remove that complexity from a user’s shoulders. Say you want to install GAIM. To do so, you simply tell Portage that you’d like to do that, and it figures out what GAIM needs to run, checks to see if you have everything necessary, and adds anything you’re missing to the list. For the Windows users out there, think of it this way: imagine the Add/Remove Programs control panel application had the ability to download and install/update any application you can think of – even non-Windows ones like AOL IM, Firefox or iTunes.
In short, it’s an absolutely tremendous application, and I think it’ll be a great addition to Solaris. But the big news, I think, is this link from Shankland. Not because Portage is being ported to Solaris 10 – that effort’s been under way for a while now, and Solaris is not the only non-Linux OS to be so targeted.
What grabbed me instead was the choice of language from Pieter Van den Abeele, one of the Gentoo devs. Check out this bit:
One of our projects codenamed Portaris, has been maintaining Gentoo Portage on top of Solaris9 and Solaris10 builds. Kudos to its two biggest contributors Sunil Kumar and Jason Wohlgemuth for investing their time in this project and come up with an installer for Solaris. I am pleased to announce that Gentoo is considering integrating OpenSolaris support into the machine readable knowledge base we call Portage. Gentoo/OpenSolaris is born.
Even with the caveat that this is a single developer with the Gentoo project, I think it’s fascinating that someone associated with a well regarded Linux project – even one who’s played a role in supporting other OSs – would be so supportive of Solaris, simply because Solaris is aimed at Linux in a way that OS-X is not.
It’s just a single datapoint, of course, but if there’s even a small percentage of developers out there that will take this open minded an approach, the folks from Sun – Jim Grisanzio in particular – are going to be pretty happy.