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Sun to drop Intel support in Solaris 9

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Sun Microsystems Tuesday said it will not support chips from Intel with the release of its Solaris 9 operating system this year, as the hardware maker looks to cut costs in a tough economic climate.

Most corporate Solaris users run the operating system on Sun's own 64-bit UltraSparc processors, but a number of users have also worked with the software on servers with Intel's 32-bit chips. Companies such as Dell Computer typically load Solaris onto Intel-based servers upon customer request, even though Dell does not directly offer Solaris as an option.

This tradition, however, will come to a close with the release of Solaris 9 in the first half of this year. Sun decided the costs of support, such as bug tracking and software patches, for Solaris 9 running on Intel was not worth the cost to the company.

"We are focusing more on our bottom line," said Graham Lovell, director of product marketing for Solaris at Sun. "We need to focus on immediate revenue where possible."

Sun can add in support for Intel's 32-bit chips on updates to Solaris 9 if that move seems appropriate later on, Lovell said.

Sun does not offer Solaris support for Intel's 64-bit Itanium chips. Although Sun was once working on a version of Solaris that would run on Itanium, those efforts have ended. Both companies have pointed fingers at each other for stopping the effort.

Customers currently using Solaris 8 on Intel-based servers will continue to receive support for about the "next seven years," Lovell said. Many of these users may hold on to Solaris 8 for some time, so Sun's decision on Solaris 9 may have little immediate impact. Users tend to make upgrades to their Solaris operating systems at a much slower pace than that associated with desktop OS upgrades.

One analyst said that a fair number of users may not be pleased with the move but added that it makes sense given today's economic climate.

"If money were unlimited, I am sure it is fair to say Sun would have been quite content to continue to support Solaris on Intel forever," said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata. "Sun, like everyone else, is trying to save money these days."

Most people using Solaris on Intel-based servers are in universities and not large companies, Haff said. Sun had looked to keep Solaris popular in the university community as a way to familiarize students with Unix. The rising popularity of Linux in these communities is now doing this job for Sun and reduced the burden of promoting Solaris.

"Sun did not want people coming through universities to just be familiar with Windows," Haff said. "Linux kind of handles that problem now."

Sun gave developers their first peak at Solaris 9 in October and will unveil the second iteration of this early access program next week, Lovell said.

Sun has distributed more than 1.2 million licenses for Solaris 8 via the company's Web site, and the vast majority of these run on Intel-based computers. This figure, however, does not include the Solaris licenses that come with the purchase of new hardware from Sun.

The IDG News Service is a Network World affiliate.

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