Sun posts download of Solaris 9 x86

Ending nearly a year of debate with its users, Sun Microsystems Inc. recently made available on its Web site an early access version of its Solaris 9 operating system that runs on Intel Corp.-compatible processors.

In January, Sun announced plans to halt work on the x86 (Intel instruction set) version of Solaris 9, focusing instead on developing the new operating system only for its own UltraSPARC processors. This move triggered a rash of complaints from Sun’s user base, which included several advertisements in major newspapers calling for Sun to explain the move in a public forum. Sun declined those challenges but reversed its stance on the x86 version of Solaris in October by announcing that it would bring the OS back with full support.

“We’ve had some issues in the past about our commitment to this product,” said John Loiacono, vice-president of operating platforms at Sun. “Well, now we are jumping in with two feet on this thing. We are going hog wild. You are going to see over the next two to three months additional enhancements to Solaris as a whole, which will have Solaris x86 as a key component.”

Users can run Solaris x86 on a wide range of Intel-based hardware, from servers to laptops. In addition, Sun sells its low-end Sun LX50 server with either Solaris x86 or Sun Linux.

The company may begin to offer more of its systems with Solaris x86 as an option, Loiacono said. He hinted that the OS might next appear on Sun’s blade servers, which have yet to be released. Sun will also begin moving on to the x86 platform more of its Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) software, which includes an application server and directory server.

“You will see us make releases for Solaris x86 that (match) the schedule of releases for Solaris on UltraSPARC,” Loiacono said. “We are also working to do performance testing and tuning, not just putting bits out there.”

Sun’s change of heart comes as a result of the user feedback and an improved support model that made it financially feasible for the company to develop the OS, Loiacono said.

A number of companies use Solaris x86 in their production environments. The OS is also popular in academic settings as an alternative to Linux or Microsoft Corp.’s Windows. Analysts have said having Solaris available on Intel hardware provides users with a lower-cost way to use the OS as opposed to buying pricier UltraSPARC-based hardware.

“Customers have said, ‘I would love to run Solaris; however, it’s too expensive to deploy on SPARC,” Loiacono said.

In the future, Sun could even bring some of its higher-end software products such as Sun Cluster to the Solaris x86 platform.

The company already plans to bundle a version of Sun Cluster with the standard version of Solaris in the near future, said an engineer at the company who asked not to be named. This software could be of particular use to customers that want to turn a number of blade servers into one large computer.

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