Sun Tuesday outlined planned improvements for Version 10 of its Solaris operating system, part of its quarterly update of new hardware and software products.Sun's hardware news - including servers based on a new version of its UltraSparc processor - will likely steal the headlines at a launch event in San Francisco Tuesday afternoon. But details of the next big Solaris upgrade, which is due for release in the third quarter, will be watched closely by many of its customers.Among the new features is N1 Grid Containers, which allows users to partition a server into multiple, independent computing environments that share the same instance of Solaris, said Graham Lovell, head of Solaris marketing. Sun has discussed the technology before under other names; it will be branded under its N1 systems management banner from now on.Customers using Sun's high-end and midrange servers can already partition servers physically, allowing them to run several instances of Solaris on a single system. This lets them run applications in discrete areas of a server for better performance and security, but also requires them to maintain multiple versions of Solaris on each system.N1 Grid Containers will let customers partition a single instance of Solaris into as many as 4,000 containers within a server, according to Lovell. Among other benefits, this should help them make more efficient use of their processors because they'll be able to run several partitioned applications against one chip, he said."Each of these containers behaves as an individual machine, with its own IP address, its own discrete personality. You can subdivide your server into 20, 30, 40 machines and have a Web server running in each," he Lovell said.Applications will also be more reliable, according to Lovell, because faults will be isolated in each container. N1 Grid Containers also makes it easier to allocate bandwidth and memory to individual applications when there is a spike in demand, he said.Sun isn't saying yet whether it plans to increase the price of Solaris with Version 10. "Whenever you launch a new version, that's the time you take a look at your pricing options," Lowell said, declining to say whether any changes are planned.He did say that Sun won't charge extra for customers who run Solaris 10 on Sun's new UltraSparc IV processor, which will be released at about the same time as the OS upgrade and effectively puts two processor cores on a single chip. As the number of cores increases past eight or 16, "that's the time you start to think about (charging extra)" for software, he said.Solaris 10 should also be better at diagnosing and fixing faults. A technology called DTrace aims to cut the time it takes to pinpoint the cause of a performance problem, using some 30,000 probes scattered throughout the server. Another technology, Predictive Self Healing, tracks memory errors and other problems and tries to predict component failures before they happen, he said.Also new will be Solaris Privileges, which lets an administrator restrict an application to only the memory areas, input\/output devices and other server resources that it needs to operate. Preventing the application from accessing other resources will help limit the damage in the event of a problem such as corrupt data, according to Sun.While Solaris 10 isn't shipping yet, customers can download the new technologies and begin using them already through Sun's Software Express subscription service. The program aims to encourage customers to upgrade to the new\u00a0operating system\u00a0by giving them a taste of what's to come. "Well over half the installed base is still on Solaris 8," Lovell said.Sun moved to a new system last year whereby it releases all of its new and upgraded products on a fixed, quarterly cycle. Other software announcements this week included:*\u00a0Informatica Corp. has become the first independent software vendor to offer its software under the per-employee pricing model used by Sun for its Java Enterprise System. Customers can now purchase the Java Enterprise System and Informatica's PowerAnalyzer business intelligence tool for $165 per employee per year, based on a company's total headcount.*\u00a0The second version of the Java Enterprise System will ship next quarter with Sun's Portal Server Mobile Access software, for accessing applications from a PDA or other portable device. It will also include Standard Edition 8 of Sun's application server, the first in the Java Enterprise System to implement Version 1.4 of Java 2 Enterprise Edition. Also new is a better user interface for engineers who install the software. "We're upgrading it for real humans," said Larry Singer, a Sun senior vice president. Other middleware components, such as the high end version of Sun's application server, have yet to be integrated with the server bundle.*\u00a0An update to the Java Desktop System, which includes Sun's StarOffice suite and various open-source applications, makes it possible to centrally control and manage systems running the software, Sun said.