In a major about face, Sun Microsystems has announced that it will release the source code to its industrial strength Solaris operating system in a bid to leapfrog the success of open source rival Linux. Solaris won't be free for the taking like Linux, however, but its source code will be available for modification by anyone under Sun's "community source" license. Under this license, anyone can download and modify the source code to Solaris as long as they provide open interfaces to the changes they've made. Sun CTO Greg Papadopoulos calls it the end of an era.

"It's done, it's over, we're doing it," says Papadopoulos. "What's left is the physics of getting it out there."

Solaris, of course, is the operating system that has the most to lose with the rapid ascension of Linux. Unlike Linux, Solaris is a true UNIX variant that is typically sold with expensive Sun servers, though a cheaper Intel version is also available. Solaris also has problems coming up with the release of Windows 2000, due this fall, which will scale higher than its predecessor, Windows NT 4.0.

As for the details of the source code release, that's still in the planning stages. But one thing is certain: The success of Linux was never more obvious than the day that mighty Sun unleashed the source code to its crown jewels. One can only wonder whether a similar sea change will affect rival Microsoft Corporation