Sun To Ship Linux OS, Linux-based x86 Systems

Last of the Unix vendors to bow to the Linux OS

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Sun Microsystems has launched a massive counteroffensive to Linux competitors by unveiling plans to ship its own Linux distribution and a new family of general-purpose Linux/x86-based systems.

The company, which has been getting hit hard on the low end by Linux-based systems, has decided to embrace Linux more fully by shipping its own Linux distribution, a series of single and multiprocessor x86-based systems and its Sun One infrastructure on Linux. Sun also plans to contribute key elements of the Solaris Unix operating system to the open-source community.

In addition, the Unix giant,thus far the most reticent about fully embracing Linux,will support its Linux products with a rich set of support and professional services, said Sun President and COO Ed Zander during a conference call.

Details about the Sun Linux distribution and low-end Linux-based systems,which are expected to be introduced during the second calendar quarter,were scant during the conference call. The Linux-based x86 systems, which include single and multiprocessing systems capable of running thousands of native Linux and Java applications, will be sold by Sun's direct-sales force and reseller partners and backed by Sun's consulting organization. Sun also plans to support Linux on its Sun StorEdge products in the future.

While observers have noted that Linux players have been steadily grabbing business away from Sun's Solaris operating systems in the enterprise, Zander sharply responded during the call that the broad support for Linux will not mean the end for the company's Solaris Unix operating system.

"It's growing by leaps and bounds. The last thing we'll do is [end Solaris," Zander said when asked if Linux will become Sun's premier operating system. "With this, the low end of the marketplace can take advantage of new applications for Linux. It will be for edge computing. Services are moving from the core of the data center to the edge and as a systems company we need to build systems that meets the need of the edge."

Sun also plans to provide native support for Linux on its SPARC-based systems for the telecommunications and embedded markets. Over the past year, Sun has lost a number of accounts in those lucrative market sectors to Red Hat Linux and embedded Linux competitors such as Lineo and SuSe. SuSe, for example, also ships a native Linux distribution for Sun's SPARC architecture.

In addition to the three major Linux initiatives, Sun will expand Linux support on its Cobalt line of appliances. It plans to use GNOME 2.0 as the "preferred desktop" for Linux. The Cobalt Linux appliances will be enhanced beyond the current eight-inch square Qube and 1.75-inch-high rack-mountable configurations, executives said.

Dismissing questions about Sun's ambivalence toward the Linux competitive OS, Zander emphasized that Sun already ships a number of software products optimized for Linux including iPlanet directory and Web servers, the Java/XML platform, Forte for Java development tools, StarOffice applications suite and Sun ChiliSoft AAASP and Sun Grid engine. Sun's Solaris also already runs Linux applications and its forthcoming Solaris 9 will offer more built-in Linux commands, interfaces and utilities. Native, binary support for Linux is also planned, Sun executives have said.

However, Sun has lagged behind Unix competitors in clarifying long-term plans for its Unix operating system and Linux while other Unix vendors--Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Compaq Computer--have stated publicly that Linux is their long-term OS of choice.

Zander said he will support both operating systems long term and dismissed media reports that Sun was not embracing Linux. CRN recently published a feature maintaining that both Sun and Microsoft are getting hit hard in the enterprise by Linux's advance. Nevertheless, Zander acknowledged that today's announcement means much broader support for Linux as an operating system.

"We have been doing a lot with Linux over the past several years, but certainly there have been a lot of questions in the last few weeks [about Sun's support for Linux, said Zander, noting that Sun is preparing to celebrate its 20-year anniversary in a couple of weeks. "As the company that first brought you open systems, Unix and Java, we thought about it and decided to make it win-win for the Java, Solaris and Linux community going forward."


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