Sun to give Solaris away for free

In attempts to silence critics of Sun Microsystems Inc. who say the firm’s Solaris operating system is simply too expensive, Sun has decided to make a version of its latest operating system, Solaris 10, available for free by Jan. 31, 2005.

This move is Sun’s attempt to compete with Linux rivals Red Hat Inc. and Novell Inc., which earn the bulk of their revenue from selling support and services for their products. And Sun is confident that its strategy will be successful.

“It ain’t going to be pretty for some of our competitors,” said Scott McNealy, CEO of Sun.

McNealy said Sun would have a leg up on its Linux rivals.

Red Hat, with its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), and Novell Inc., with its SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), no longer offer free downloads of their commercial products. Solaris will be 100 per cent free for x86, AMD Opteron, SPARC and Intel Itanium platforms, and the firm said its support services would be on average 40 per cent cheaper than support service from its Linux competitors.

Even before the announcement that Solaris was to be made available for free, Paul Kerr, president of Scalar Decisions in Toronto, Ont., and an ex-Sun employee, said that the cost of maintaining Solaris was always cheaper than Windows or Linux. Scalar Decisions is a consulting firm that helps its clients choose and deploy the most ideal platforms for their business needs be it Unix, Windows or Linux.

But just because Kerr is a fan of Solaris doesn’t mean he thinks Solaris is ideal for every company. “If you have a Windows Server environment and that’s where your skill sets are, then Windows would be a better choice,” Kerr said. “Then it all comes down to price elasticity and what the cost would be to move from one environment to another.”

Notable improvements to Solaris 10 include Dynamic Tracing (DTrace), Linux Application Environment and Solaris Containers, Kerr said.

“DTrace lets users perform in-depth analysis and tune the operating system all the way up to the level for whatever environment you have,” he said.

The Linux Application Environment, formerly known as Project Janus, lets users run Linux-based applications on Solaris. Glen Weinberg, vice-president, operating systems group at Sun said in a worse case scenario users could expect a five to ten per cent performance decrease by running a Linux application on Solaris.

Kerr said the value of the Linux Application Environment is that users now have another option. “Now there is an equal footing for the three top operating systems out there — Windows, Linux and Solaris,” he said. “Customers for the first time have the opportunity to choose the best operating system for their needs, where you haven’t had that choice before.”

Another notable improvement to Solaris is Solaris Containers, Kerr said. This lets users run multiple software partitions with more than 8,000 containers on one instance of the OS.

Other additions to Solaris 10 include Predictive Self-Healing, ZFS — a file system with what Sun describes as virtually unlimited storage capacity — and process rights management, a feature from Trusted Solaris, which includes more stringent privilege models.

To get Solaris users simply download the application off the company’s Web site, obtaining what Sun calls a “Free Right to Use” or RTU license.

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