Whither now, OpenIndiana?

Alasdair Lumsden, the project lead of OpenIndiana (OI), resigned from the project a few days ago. Following proper protocol, he announced his resignation in an email to the OI developer mailing list.

If you do not know what OI is, it is a desktop- cum -server fork of OpenSolaris, which itself is an open source fork of Solaris. For a time, the guts of OpenIndiana was based on that of OpenSolaris, then it was recently changed to that of illumos. And, of course, illumos is a fork of OpenSolaris. Ok, this is the last use of the word fork in this paragraph, hopefully in this article.

Development of OpenIndiana is spearheaded by a small group of dedicated coders working mostly in their spare time, with Alasdair Lumsden as point man. The project is hosted on Alasdair Lumsden’s servers and the project’s domain ( openindiana.org ) belongs to EveryCity, a hosting solutions provider based in the UK. With him gone, there is some uncertainty about the future direction of the project. Somebody obviously has to step up to the plate and get things moving.

With an open source project like OI, contributors come and go all the time, but Alasdair’s reasons for quitting paint a very dark picture for the future of the project, certainly not a good advertisement for OI. From his email of resignation Alasdair sees the project as worthless and as good as dead, writing that:

I lay the blame of this squarely on the lack of a successful general purpose distribution of Solaris/Illumos. OpenIndiana was my attempt at competing with the Linux distros, but our lack of progress has torpedoed it. Nobody in their right mind would use OI – it ships severely out of date insecure software, lacks some of the most common 3rd party apps such as LibreOffice, and so much simple shit that should just work, such as “pecl install”, “gem install”, “pip install” or whatever barfs due to nonsense SunStudio flags, to the point you need a background in computer science and compiler flags to get it to work. Not fit for purpose.

While his reasons may be valid, as project lead, he was in a position to do something about it. What did he do to make sure that the points for why “nobody in their right mind would use OI” are addressed as best he can.

And while his comments cast a black shadow on the future of the project, others, based on their knowledge of what is going on, have a far more optimistic view. For example, here are some of the reasons (other than ZFS, KVM and DTrace) that Garrett D’Amore gave for maintaining a positive outlook on the state of OI:

  • An ongoing effort for a full X bring up on SPARC. No mean feat.
  • Joyent has ported like ~gazillion packages to illumos kernel (via pkgin)
  • mdb (our excellent kernel debugging stack) got a recent set of significant improvements (through the illumos hackathon.)
  • Nexenta continues to plug away at porting and updating software for illumian, which in theory should be shareable with OI and OmniOS. (The idea behind illumian was to facilitate collaboration between Nexenta and OI engineers — to eliminate the debates/barrier caused by different package manages. Sorry that in retrospect it hasn’t worked out so well.)
  • As far as I know, illumos has the *only* open source functional localedef. (Ok, there is a crappy Perl wrapper that implements a minimalist version of the POSIX spec on top of Darwin, but its so unusable for real work that it hardly warrants mention.)
  • As far as I know, illumos has one of the most performant strcoll() implementations *anywhere* (much faster than either Solaris’ or *BSDs; I’ve not compared Linux, but admittedly its GPL and not usable in our CDDL libc.)
  • We continue to collaborate with BSDs. The work to integrate mdocml, for example, is an effort intended to modernize our documentation tools and increase opportunities for sharing with the BSD community.
  • EMULEX has contributed a reasonably complete set of their drivers to illumos.
  • Areca contributed their source code for some of their HBAs to illumos.
  • LSI contributes indirectly through commercial partners @ Nexenta and Joyent
  • Intel collaborates pretty extensively — albeit indirectly through commercial concerns such as Joyent.
  • There is an ongoing effort to modernize our WiFi stack and add full WPA.
  • There is an ongoing effort to update our boot loader to support EFI BIOS and other features. (Largely through adoption of GRUBv2.)

That does not look like the type of ongoing effort you would expect from a dying project, but as they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. The glass is either half full of half empty. But only time will tell what the future holds for OI. How will other members of the OI team respond. Who will step in and take charge.

While things look bleak in the eyes of Alasdair Lumsden, I am encouraged by closing comments of Garrett D’Amore’s email:

Can we do more? Of course! But let’s not forget where we came from. Only 2 years ago, the future of Solaris technology in the community (OpenSolaris) was effectively *dead*, with no viable follow-on platforms and zero commercial partners. Today we have a thriving ecosystem filled with people doing interesting things. Many of which even I don’t know about. (It seems almost every day that I hear about someone else using illumos or illumos-derived tech in a way or application that I didn’t know about.)

If you can’t see the bright future ahead, then I venture to say that either your eyes are closed, or you’re looking somewhere else (behind or to the side) instead of forward.