[TUHS] Open sourcing SunOS?

Rob Gingell gingell at computer.org
Thu Feb 23 10:12:23 AEST 2023

On 2/22/23 12:04 PM, Warner Losh wrote:
> SunOS 4 has a lot of encumbered code in it, ...

SunOS had a complicated set of license encumbrances. I can't claim to 
have fully understood them even at the time. In the mid-1980s, the 
notion of "open sourcing" as we understand it today wasn't a goal or 
even considered and so never entered into the terms of the technologies 
Sun used. These might have been overcome with effort but in the context 
of the time it didn't seem important.

Things Sun licensed widely, like source kits for NFS/VFS, were things we 
routinely and repeatedly sanitized as they evolved.

As part of the SPARC partners program SunOS was licensed to people 
building SPARC-based products but as Warner notes in the Solbourne 
experience, especially early on, there wasn't a "product" so much as a 
"process" that disseminated it.

> I also know that Sun tried to donate their VM system to Berkeley btween 
> BSD4.3
> and BSD4.4. 

It would be more correct to say that Sun was willing to donate the VM 
system back to Berkeley, but my recollection is that CSRG planned to get 
to that functionality through a different implementation path and didn't 
want it.

We expected "everyone" to eventually get the VM system, as it was in 
SVR4 before SunOS 4.0 even shipped, and so "everyone" (even the people 
who otherwise offered BSD systems) would have access to it, just like we 
did. (Of course that notion of "everyone" is pretty limited but at the 
time it was just The Way It Was.)

We did donate all the shared library work to Berkeley, probably the 
closest to what we'd now call "open source" that Sun did in that era. At 
the time, Berkeley didn't plan on migrating off of the a.out object file 
format and so it was useful to them to have the a.out-based implementation.

> Had the support of Scott McNeely and was almost a done deal. However > the lawyers said that the company would need to take a 'write down' loss
> on the
> donation, which would likely tank the stock price of Sun, so it was 
> nixed. 
While I am confident he would have supported it, I doubt Scott ever knew 
about the donations and discussions. The organization-chart-local VP 
signed off on it and I had a 10 minute phone conversation (no part of 
which involved balance sheets or stock values) with the lawyer who wrote 
the letter of transmittal that accompanied the code.

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