Sun to spotlight desktop Linux at show

Sun Microsystems Inc. will have a lot to say about the Linux desktop at its conference opening in San Francisco Wednesday, although users will have to wait for some time until they actually get their hands on a Sun Linux PC, executives said Tuesday

The SunNetwork conference, which begins Wednesday with a keynote by Sun Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Scott McNealy, is the first user conference to focus entirely on Sun products in more than a decade, according to the company. It is expecting as many as 7,000 attendees and has made room for 150 exhibitors that plan to show how their products run on Sun hardware and software.

The show is being used as a stage on which to beat the company drum on a new Linux strategy, company officials have promised. Sun gave a preview of its Linux announcements Tuesday in an interview, revealing that it doesn’t plan to release a new hardware system here, but rather will expound on its desktop Linux plans.

“This isn’t about announcing a product that you can purchase 10 days from now,” said John Loiacono, chief marketing officer at Sun. “We will focus on a concept versus a box.”

Sun’s desktop Linux plans eventually will include releasing configured systems running Linux, he said. However, before that the company will focus on educating customers on the services and systems support that it plans to offer. That includes how it will enable its desktop Linux systems to work closely with a customer’s midrange servers and back-end systems, as well as with Web-based Java applications.

“We’ll talk about things like, how do you integrate better authentication and security features into an enterprise desktop?” Loiacono said. “This is more about the glue that it takes to tie a desktop into the back-end system.”

Sun announced its own distribution of the Linux operating system at LinuxWorld last month, releasing the LX50 server to buoy the announcement. That hardware platform, designed for use mainly as a print and file server, uses processors from Intel Corp.

The combination of Linux products that eventually will be available from Sun is designed to cater to the lower end of the IT market, where its flagship Unix servers don’t compete. The company is stressing that its desktop Linux strategy will remain targeted at that specific segment of the market and won’t go after a broad base of users.

“This is aimed at a section of the enterprise desktop market,” Loiacono said. “It’s not aimed to be a ‘go to Wal-Mart and buy a single PC’ audience.”

The open source operating system has had a slow start in the desktop market, most notably with the closure of desktop Linux software company Eazel Inc. and a decision by Dell Computer Corp. Inc. to stop offering the operating system on some of its consumer PCs. However, the momentum is moving in Linux’s favour, according to some analysts. Red Hat Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. this week announced new Linux workstations.

”We are about to enter a growth spurt for Linux on the desktop. A number of planets are lining up to make what was a long shot much more likely than it was just six to 12 months ago,” said Dana Gardner, senior analyst with The Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston.

Although a Sun Linux desktop product won’t be immediately available, Loiacono noted in the interview that some of the components that will make up the Sun Linux desktop environment exist already, such as the StarOffice office productivity software suite and the Mozilla Web browser.

The environment will likely also include an open source software program that allows it to run certain Windows applications, according to a source familiar with Sun’s plans who preferred not to be identified.

“Sun is beginning to put together some interesting pieces here like StarOffice (6.0, which) has much better file compatibility with (Microsoft’s) Office suite,” Gardner said. Those pieces complement Sun’s Linux-to-the-edge strategy announced earlier this year, he added.

In addition to its desktop Linux plans, the company will unveil at SunNetwork the product roadmap of its N1 software initiative, as well as “about a dozen announcements” about security, including details of improved support for technologies such as OpenSSL (Secure Sockets Layer) and SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language), Loiacono said.

SunNetwork will take place at Moscone Center and continue through Friday. More information about the show can be found online at

– With files from Ed Scannell, IDG News Service