December 20, 2004
Free Software
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Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor

by Jack Horgan - Contributing Editor
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Two weeks ago I wrote a commentary on Pirated Software. In the introduction I identified several source of legally free software including shareware, user group offerings, commercial freebies such as conversion tools from competing databases and open source software. I wanted to return to this topic because some significant events have occurred in this area recently. This commentary describes free software from Google, Sun Microsystems, Mozilla, SofJin, and OpenAccess.


Google, Yahoo! and other search engine companies provide a free service rather than software. On December 14th Google announced that it is working with the libraries of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, and the University of Oxford as well as The New York Public Library to digitally scan books from their collections so that users worldwide can search them in Google. This announcement is an expansion of the Google Print program, which assists publishers in making books and other offline information searchable online. Google is now working with libraries to digitally scan books from their collections, and over time will integrate this content into the Google index, to make it
searchable for users worldwide.

Clicking on a title delivers a Google Print page where users can browse the full text of public domain works and brief excerpts and/or bibliographic data of copyrighted material. Library content will be displayed in keeping with copyright law.

On The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Paul LeClair, President of NY Public Library said “For the first time the New York Public Library and many other libraries will be able to bring very substantial portions of their collections in public domain to a worldwide audience 24/7. That strikes me as the beginning of a substantial revolution in the way that we can distribution information to a global audience. ... This will blow open things in ways that are hard to even imagine over the next decade.”

SUN Solaris 10

In mid-November Sun announced that it would be offering Solaris 10 operating system for free. This is after investing roughly $500 million and years of development time on its next-generation operating system. The software will be downloadable from the Sun web sites (>850 megabytes) or available on CDs for around $90 dollars. Sun will provide security updates in the free version but will charge an annual subscription fee for bug fixes and support. The per-processor, per-year subscription will cost $120 for bug fixes, $240 for 12-hour support five days a week and $360 for 24-hour support seven days a week.

Sun will also create an open-source project around its Solaris 10 operating system by the end of the year. The open-source project is aimed at developers and academics that will be able to make modifications to the code. The work done by Sun engineers will constitute the core operating system. For future versions, Sun will pick from the additions submitted by other project participants while ensuring that Solaris does not split into different, incompatible versions. Sun will release some proprietary third party code such as device drivers as binaries.

Sun also intends to include a software addition called Janus with Solaris 10, which will enable Linux applications to run on Solaris unchanged.

Solaris 10 new features include
N1 Grid Containers

Support for 64-bit x86 processors

Predictive self-healing

FireEngine, revamped networking code

Process Rights Management to help thwart hackers

DTrace, a diagnostic tool for system administrators
Sun has recently submitted its Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) lending speculation that the Mozilla-based licensing model would also open source Solaris. Some critics complain that this will have conflicts with GPL (GNU General Public License) which governs Linux and this might discourage developers form participating in the Open Solaris project. The poropsed license contains the following: “Any Covered Software that You distribute or otherwise make available in Executable form must also be made available in Source Code form and that Source Code form must be distributed only under the terms of this License.”

Why is Sun Microsystems doing this? The answer probably lies in its financial performance as shown in the figure and table below.

SUN Revenue Fiscal 200 thru F2004 ending July

As the graph shows product revenues have been falling. Increasing service revenue has kept the total revenue comparatively flat for a couple of years but down considerably from three and four years ago.

WW Server Revenue and Unit Estimates for 3Q04
Source Gartner

Sun's market share in servers has also taken a hit. The operating software expense impacts total cost of ownership. Sun does not appear among the top five PC vendors.

History of UNIX

The history of UNIX goes back to the sixties. Computer scientist at Bell Labs, then part of AT&T, and GE joined an effort underway at MIT on what was called the Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) mainframe timesharing system. Bell Labs withdrew from the effort in 1969 but a small band of users at Bell Labs Computing Science Research Center in Murray Hill forged went off on their own. Ken Thompson, one of the scientists, had developed a computer game called "Space Travel" that simulated the motion of the planets in the solar system. He ported it to a DEC PDP-7. As he strove to create an environment where this game could be both played and developed, the components
of an operating system began to emerge. The system was ported to a PDP-11. The first practical use of the system was to support the Bell Labs Patent Administration. The name 'UNIX' is not an acronym but rather a somewhat treacherous pun on 'Multics'. The first version of UNIX was written in assembler language but evolved through B, an interpreted language, and finally to C, a high-level complied language.

The UNIX operating systems leaked out of Bell Labs to universities, research institutes, government bodies and commercial companies.

The UNIX operating system can be viewed as three concentric rings, namely,
- The kernel, which schedules tasks and manages storage;

- The shell, which connects and interprets users' commands, calls programs from memory, and executes them; and

- The tools and applications that offer additional functionality to the operating system
The features that made UNIX attractive then and now were
- Multitasking capability

- Multiuser capability

- Portability

- UNIX programs

- Library of application software
In the mid seventies AT&T began to license UNIX at little or no cost. Over time several commercial versions of UNIX were introduced including
HP-UX       Hewlett Packard

IRIX          SGI

AIX           IBM

SunOS       SUN Microsystems, Solaris is SunOS plus tools

Ultrix         Digital Equipment

SCO UNIX   Santa Crux Operations (SCO)

Xenix         Microsoft

As one might suspect, these different versions had interoperability problems as vendors added enhancement and extensions to differentiate their products in the marketplace. Application developers seeking to provide solutions on multiple hardware platforms had to acquire multiple hardware environments with associated software tools to both develop and test their code.

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-- Jack Horgan, Contributing Editor.

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