Sun's Linux Stand

McNealy defends support, but critics question the motives

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Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy came out swinging in defense of his company's recent decision to support Linux, saying it was consistent with Sun's long-standing Unix strategy.

But some rivals, citing Sun's recent attack on mainframe Linux in an article on its Web site, said the company is promoting Linux strictly at the network edge in an attempt to salvage Solaris' position as the dominant operating system for high-end servers.

In a recent interview with CRN, McNealy said Linux and Solaris are ostensibly the same thing, since they both are forms of Unix. Sun's support of Linux simply means Sun now has another flavor of Unix in its portfolio, McNealy said.

McNealy says Sun considers Linux as just another flavor of Unix.

"We now have two implementations of Unix," he said. "Actually, we have more than that. We have Solaris 2.6, 2.7, Solaris 8, Solaris 9. We have Linux, we have multiple implementations, we have Linux for X86. So we have lots of different Unix implementations."

But in a recent letter co-signed by Linux software vendors Caldera, Red Hat, Turbolinux and SuSE and written by Alexander Tormasov, chief scientist for software vendor SWsoft and a member of the team that develops networking code for the Linux kernel, Tormasov criticized Sun's about-face. Sun is putting a negative spin on mainframe Linux to stave off competition from IBM's z800 Linux mainframe, Tormasov said in the letter.

SWsoft, based in South San Francisco, and IBM have a pact to co-market SWsoft's server-virtualization software, Virtuozzo, on IBM's mainframe Linux operating system, said Alex Plant, SWsoft's senior marketing manager.

Responding to questions from CRN, Tormasov said Sun is nervous because Linux is stealing market share from Solaris. "The numbers don't lie,Linux has emerged as a platform for all types of computing, from Intel-based servers all the way through the mainframe," he said. "If I were Sun, I'd be scared as well."

McNealy, however, said customers don't care as much about what is running a server as they do about the applications running on the server, which is why Sun is pushing multiple Unix implementations on its end-to-end services platform, Sun Open Net Environment (ONE). "Nobody cares about the processor architecture. Nobody cares about the kernel architecture," he said. "People care about the services delivered, and that's where our focus is."

Solution providers said Sun is under increasing pressure from Red Hat and other vendors as Linux moves up the enterprise food chain, and they question Sun's true commitment.

"I will believe it when I see [a commitment to Linux from Sun," said Tony Rems, CTO of SBI, Salt Lake City. Rems said he's concerned that "as IBM and Sun bicker over Linux, there [will become variants of Linux, and you [could end up with the Unix problem all over again."

PAULA ROONEY and AMY ROGERS contributed to this story.

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