Rumors have been flying since at least December that Oracle is on the verge of shutting down its Solaris Unix operating system, as well as discontinuing its SPARC server line. Well, at long last Oracle has spoken (excuse the redundancy), and as with most rumors, these had a smidgen of truth, but missed the mark.

We don't yet have all of the facts -- Oracle has promised to clear things up shortly -- but what we do know is that the company has dropped plans for Solaris 12. Instead, they'll be releasing something they're calling Solaris 11.next, which will evidently be available sometime this year. According to this timeline, this will be the last release of Solaris until at least 2021.

As for SPARC, Oracle seems to have all sorts of plans for the server archetecture it acquired from Sun Microsystems (along with Solaris) back in 2010, and it appears to be safe for the long term. According to the company's road map, "SPARC next" will become available sometime this year, with "SPARC next+" coming in 2020.

There also are plans for some kind of infrastructure-as-a-service SPARC under the name @customer with “Dedicated Metered & Non-Metered” offerings -- but we'll have to wait to see what this is all about. According to Oracle's plan, expect to see this surface near the end of the year, after "SPARC next" becomes available.

A SPARC and Solaris cloud makes plenty of sense at this juncture. With Oracle's decreasing base -- at least in market share -- for its traditional software, its been working overtime to beef-up its cloud service. A SPARC and Solaris cloud service will help set it apart from other cloud services -- which is a crowded market at present.

While the Solaris news might appear to be not-so-good for enterprises relying on the operating system, I wouldn't start shopping for a replacement just yet. To begin with, Solaris is scheduled to be supported until 2034, so there's no need to rush. There's also no reason to believe that the "next" release will signal the end-of-the-line for an operating system that's been around since 1991 -- or, if the BSD-based SunOS is counted, since 1982.

Unless I miss my guess -- it's been known to happen -- Oracle's dropping Solaris 12 for "next" signals a turn away from the two-year release cycle toward a rolling release system, which has worked out well for many Linux distributions -- and which is essentially where Microsoft seems to be going with Windows 10. With Oracle focusing more and more on the cloud, and especially with its SPARC cloud plans, it would make sense to be able to offer a "premium" version of Unix that is always guaranteed to be the latest and greatest.

This week, Oracle has also been busy releasing its quarterly patch update, which contains fixes for 270 security vulnerabilities throughout its product line. While this may seem like a large number, since the company only issues patches four times a year, it's pretty much par-for-the-course for Oracle. The big news is SPARC and Solaris, and until Oracle clarifies its plans, expect to see more second guessing like I've done here.