Sun opens door to Windows

Sun Microsystems Inc. may be warming up to the idea of selling Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system (OS) on its servers.

Tom Goguen, vice president of operating platform marketing for Sun, said this week that while Sun currently has no definite plan to strike a deal with Microsoft to sell Windows, the vendor will consider it if customers and partners think it’s a good idea.

“It depends on what our customers tell us to do,” Goguen said. “If we find enough customers that say we want you to have that type of relationship with Microsoft, [we will].”

This is a change from Sun’s previous public stance on whether it would ever sell Microsoft’s server operating system. Sun has certified Windows on its hardware based on x86 Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) processors.

However John Fowler, executive vice president of Sun’s Network Systems Group, said in April that Sun has no need to actually sell Windows because many customers already purchase the OS on their own and can get Windows support on Sun hardware through channel partners.

“It’s a pretty common question … when are we going to OEM Windows,” he said at the time. “I already think that the epic milestone has already passed, because we enable our Windows channel.”

All of Sun’s chief hardware competitors, including Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and IBM Corp., have OEM (original equipment manufacturer) deals with Microsoft to sell Windows on their servers.

Microsoft officials declined to comment Friday.

Michael Goulde, senior analyst with Forrester Research Inc., said he expects Sun to join rivals on the bandwagon before the end of 2005 in time to prepare for the release of the next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. Microsoft expects Longhorn to ship in the second half of 2006.

“It would make sense for them to get on board as the [Longhorn] beta program gets off the ground,” he said.

Inking an OEM deal with Microsoft would have pros and cons for Sun, Goulde said. On one hand, it would give Sun access to Microsoft developers and salespeople to “more efficiently and more profitably distribute [Windows] on their Opteron servers,” he said.

On the other hand, the move might muddle Sun’s strategic commitment to Solaris as its core operating platform, a commitment from which company executives have not wavered for years.

“It might cause some customers to start scratching their heads about Sun’s commitment to Solaris in particular,” Goulde said.

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