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Solaris chief: Linux great for Sun

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIF. - If a sitcom was made based on the hottest software around, it might be called Everybody Loves Linux.

Everybody except Microsoft, that is. One of the unmistakable selling points of the Unix-based open source code operating system software is its potential to be used as a weapon by Microsoft's competitors in their war against all versions of Windows.

And no other Unix vendor is embracing Linux as an NT alternative more warmly than Sun. Just listen to John McFarlane, Solaris software division president: "The movement back toward open systems is superb for Sun. It's a revitalization of open systems, a revitalization of Unix. People have come to the conclusion that NT just may not make it.

"There's a whole grass-roots revolution around getting back to open systems," he continues. "So we're big supporters of Linux."

Sun has demonstrated its support for Linux by:

Porting Java 2, its latest version of the Java Development Kit, to Linux. This will enable developers to use Java to build applications that run on Linux.

Porting Linux to its UltraSPARC workstations.

Announcing plans to ensure that Linux works well with Solaris in mixed network environments.

McFarlane says that when it comes to third-party application development, what's good for Linux could also be good for Solaris. "If the developers are developing on Linux, it's a small step to Solaris and a relatively big step to NT," he says.

Linux was created eight years ago by Linus Torvalds, then a computer science student in Finland. Its popularity has spread through the Internet, from which thousands of programmers worldwide have been able to download the Linux source code for free.

A small number of companies also ship Linux to customers for profit. Those shipments increased from 236,000 units in 1997 to 748,000 last year, according to a study by market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC).

The IDC study also estimates that Unix market share for Linux grew from 6.8% of server operating system shipments in 1997 to 17.2% in 1998. None of these figures account for the free downloads available on the 'Net.

Analysts say Sun's strategy of embracing Linux makes sense for now.

"Sun is primarily interested in selling boxes," says Anne Thomas, a senior analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston. "I would imagine Sun doesn't particularly care whether it's running Linux or Solaris, as long as it's a SPARC box."

Linux is not a great competitive threat to Sun because relatively little software runs on the operating system. "There's still a lot more software available for Solaris than Linux," Thomas says.

What about the future, however, when Linux becomes more widely deployed?

McFarlane says Sun is keeping its options open.

"We're looking at Linux as a model, and we're also saying it may change business rules," he says.

But, he adds, "We haven't chosen yet to give Solaris source code away for free. There are 10 years of complex technology and third-party stuff involved in that."


Contact Senior Editor Chris Nerney

Download Linux version for UltraSPARC workstations.

What does Sun have to fear from Linux?
Linux may be setting its sights on Windows NT, but commercial Unix vendors could get caught in the cross fire. SunWorld, 12/98.

Take nothing for granted
Linux's success is remarkable, but nothing is guaranteed. LinuxWorld, 12/98.

Torvalds OKs a new Linux kernel
Network World Fusion, 1/27/99.

Grass-roots effort pulls SGI toward Linux
Network World, 1/18/99.

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