Recent changes to Solaris licensing could further encourage Solaris 10 users to consider Linux and fewer new users to consider Solaris at all. If you’re a Solaris customer, don’t overlook this license change.

While the “Linux vs. Windows” competition is often played up in the press, the reality is that Linux workload overwhelmingly comes from Unix migrations. Being the largest Unix platform, Sun Solaris has faced stiff competition for lower-end workload against Linux for the better part of a decade. As Linux usage and features have grown, so to has the applicability of Linux in more mission critical distributed environments, an area historically associated with Unix and Sun Solaris. Sun attempted to slow, or even reverse, this trend in 2005 by offering Sun Solaris 10 free of charge. Sun expected to sell subscriptions to customers seeking support and defect fixes in order to drive revenue.

The Wayback Machine documents the Sun Solaris 10 license as it was offered back in May 2005.

“Obtaining an Entitlement Document is simple. On the Solaris 10 Get It page, select the platform and format you desire from the drop-down menus, and then click the Download Solaris 10 button. When you arrive at the Sun Download Center, either sign in or register, ensuring that a valid e-mail address is part of your Sun Download Center account to receive the Entitlement Document. Fill out the Solaris download survey, specifying the number of systems on which you are installing the software. Once you have completed the survey, you will be redirected to the Solaris 10 download page for downloading, and your Entitlement Document will be sent to your registered e-mail address.”

Simply put, register with a valid email address, download Sun Solaris 10 and receive an Entitlement Document to use Sun Solaris 10 without support and for as long as you wish. The terms and conditions were unchanged until at least June 2008, the final copy of the license found on the Wayback Machine.

It seems Oracle has appended this sentence to the license paragraph above:

“Please remember, your right to use Solaris acquired as a download is limited to a trial of 90 days, unless you acquire a service contract for the downloaded Software.”

The obvious question is why would Oracle make this change?

Oracle must have determined that a large enough number of Solaris 10 users are doing so without a service contract. These users are attractive targets to convert into paying customers. However, what percentage of these unpaid users would Oracle have the ability to upsell into if the user had not been able to use Sun Solaris 10 unsupported for more than 90 days and instead migrated to unpaid Linux?

Free User to Paying Customer?
It’s interesting to note that Red Hat just reported that one of its eighteen deals over $1 million in their recent fourth quarter was from an unpaid user converting to a paying customer. By limiting the use of Sun Solaris 10 to 90 days, it’s hard to imagine that Oracle will build a set of customers that could later be upsold. In effect, the new license severely limits Sun Solaris 10 as a viable alternative to Linux for net new customers. But maybe this is a calculated business decision on Oracle’s behalf. If a net new customer needs the advanced capabilities of Sun Solaris, they’ll pay for that capability and the associated hardware from a Unix vendor. Sun being the largest Unix OS vendor, they’ll win their share of this new business. If the net new customer doesn’t need the advanced capabilities, it’s unlikely the customer would even consider anything beyond Linux on an x86 system.

Existing unpaid users of Sun Solaris 10 with an Entitlement Document could potentially continue their usage without restriction. The license change does not appear to be retroactive. However, I’m not a lawyer, so be sure to validate your unpaid usage of Sun Solaris 10 with your legal department and/or Oracle.

On the surface, this new license has little impact to existing paying customers of Sun Solaris 10. However, in reality, limiting the number of potential users and customers in the Sun Solaris ecosystem can’t be viewed as a positive outcome. With upwards of half a billion in Solaris operating system revenues per year, it’s difficult to argue that Sun Solaris is “dead or dying”. However, IDC’s estimates indicate that Sun Solaris revenue has declined at approximately 10 percent annually from 2006 to 2008. The 2009 data, due out in the summer of 2010 would likely continue this negative trend. Over the same period, Linux, and its poster child vendor, Red Hat, has grown at least 15 percent plus range annually. With this data in hand, one might expect Oracle to encourage Sun Solaris usage; a 90 day trial hardly achieves this.

What do you think about the new license?

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