[TUHS] Open sourcing SunOS?

Warner Losh imp at bsdimp.com
Thu Feb 23 12:14:16 AEST 2023

On Wed, Feb 22, 2023 at 5:12 PM Rob Gingell <gingell at computer.org> wrote:

> 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.

Process is a good word here :).

> > 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.

I got my story from Kirk McKusick who  was very clear that it was going
to happen, but didn't due to some hold up at the highest levels. It was only
then that the decided to go with Mach after they couldn't get 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.)

Yea, all proper licensees :).

> 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.

Yea, BSD didn't migrate off of a.out until the fission into FreeBSD and
since they did things slightly differently...

> > 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.

 I don't doubt that. I certainly wasn't there. I've heard the story from
Kirk several times though...

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