Glancing across my office, I see a Sun workstation running Solaris. Well, it’s normally running Solaris, but I haven’t turned it on for a while, mainly because I’ve not done any hands-on work with Unix and NetBeans for a while.

When Oracle acquired Sun, there was lots of talk about certain software assets, like MySQL and Java. Other Sun software, such as Solaris and DTrace, were also talked about, but as they weren’t significant direct revenue drivers or essential to Sun’s software licensing business, they didn’t get much attention.

Yet Solaris is important. It’s one of the most important Unix dialects, particularly for the data center. Yes, there’s IBM’s AIX and other versions of Unix, and yes, there are many flavors of Linux running in rack after rack of pizza boxes all over the world. (Of course, Linux isn’t Unix, but it’s Unix-like.)

How important is Solaris to Oracle? There’s no way of knowing. It often seems that Larry Ellison has been channeling Steve Jobs, that’s how reticent the company is about its future plans. I don’t expect Oracle to kill Solaris or OpenSolaris; too many products and customers use them. But without some evidence of investment, my guess is that they’re considered to be non-strategic assets and will receive minimal attention.

Oracle, after all, makes its money by selling and supporting expensive enterprise products. Solaris is never going to be a money-maker, not on the scale of Oracle’s other software products. Only Microsoft, it seems, can make money on an operating system.

That brings me to the Illumos project, the “spoon” of Solaris that Alex Handy wrote about last week. Because OpenSolaris is mainly open source, there’s the opportunity for outside groups to create and evolve it to a viable, fully open-source version of Solaris.

Will Illumos succeed? Beats me. Will Oracle see it as an opportunity or as a threat, or will it be ignored completely? It’s clearly too early to tell. However, I hope that Oracle sees Illumos as a sign that Solaris is a strategic product worth investing in.

Alan Zeichick is editorial director of SD Times. Follow him on Twitter at Read his blog at