Not even storms could ground Sun

The biggest hurdle in unveiling a new product is seldom the weather, but that was the case for Sun Microsystems Inc., as senior team members battled to get to New York City in time to launch their newest operating system, Solaris 8.

Sun keyed in on six areas in which they “put their money where their mouth is.” These include scalability, manageability, trustworthiness, availability, connectivity and comprehensiveness.

Sun ran through the myriad of new feature that distinguish Solaris 8 from its competition and its predecessor, Solaris 7, including such innovations as automated dynamic reconfiguration, expanded hot patching capabilities and IPv6 support.

The IPv6 support was a favourite of many analysts and employees alike. It will allow for a near infinite number of IP addresses – a number so large that “it approaches the number of molecules on the planet,” according to Sun

Sun is also making free both the right to use the runtime software on systems with eight or fewer processors and the Solaris source code. “If you make additions to Solaris, you can keep them. It is your property,” said Anil Gadre, general manager of Solaris Software. If a developer wants to move to commercially license the change, then they have to enter into an agreement with Sun.

“The free Solaris is really targeted at expanding our platform, increasing our ubiquity,” said Tom Goguen, group manager for Solaris software, in a subsequent interview.

Sun said it expects the majority of users will upgrade to Solaris 8, with some completely bypassing 7 and jumping directly to the new offering. Also some services will only be available on Solaris 8.

Some analysts found that Sun was a little unclear on exactly what was different between versions 7 and 8, though they did like what they saw.

“The hot kernel patching is certainly a powerful thing they have added,” said Al Gillen, an analyst with IDC Corp. “It can be really, really crucial to a small number of their customers,” although he added that a lot of customers “can survive a reboot on a kernel repatch.”

Sun also made issue of their reliability, with an inevitable poke at the company from Redmond, Wash. “If you are running a system that can not afford to go down, you are not going to get the reliability on Windows that you will on Solaris,” said Mark Himelstein, senior director of the Solaris operating environment. “If your site goes down, people go somewhere else. You only get one chance.”

Sun is also trying to redefine the marketplace. “The truth is there really isn’t a Unix world any more. There is a Linux world, there is a Solaris world, there is an NT world and there is a Mac OS world, and that is all there is,” Himelstein said.

The operating system, to be released March 5, will be available on both SPARC and Intel platforms in 10 languages. There is a fee of US$75 is to cover the cost of the media.