Sun Microsystems is now announcing Solaris for Intranets, aka the company's first manifestation of Solaris 2.6, to ship this month. Sun is directly challenging Windows NT with Solaris for Intranets. For years Windows NT has been threatening to eat market share like a monster one imagines creeping towards the tent after a storytelling session around the campfire. In the morning when the shadows no longer suggest eerie visions, the monster is revealed for what it is - a bogeyman puffed up in a grand fantasy.
Likewise, now that people are deploying Windows NT in larger numbers and in serious installations, the product is being revealed for what it is - another Microsoft/work-in-promise, that is, progress.
Folks are now finding out what a time-consuming chore it is to reboot every time they change a setting more consequential than the desktop wallpaper. Cumulative systemwide problems often can only be cured by time-consuming reinstallation of anything from drivers to the whole operating system. Service packs introduce nearly as many problems as they solve. And of course there is the Windows NT denial-of-service and security hole du jour.
Regardless of whether you like Windows NT or not (believe it or not, I do), the point is that, as the weaknesses are revealed, Sun is no longer fighting a spectre.
This gives the company a rather brief opportunity (and by that I mean a one- to two-year window) to capitalise on the growing disillusionment with Windows NT.
First, Sun had to address hardware support. Early versions of Solaris x86 required that you get the very few cards it supported certified by the Jumper Settings Police before you could use them.
By Version 2.51, Solaris no longer suffered from driver drought. Solaris had also evolved into a product that is no more difficult to install than any other Unix.
In this latest version, Sun takes another leap forward. The browser-based installation process is automated enough to make installation a non-threatening and largely unattended experience.
Solaris 2.51 is quite a stable operating system and an exceptionally good performer as a Web server, according to InfoWorld benchmarks. Sun claims to offer even better performance and reliability with Solaris for Intranets.
Sun woke up from its own dream and realised what a mediocre job it was doing at providing PC-client compatibility. So Sun teamed up with Syntax and integrated the Syntax TotalNet 5.0 product into Solaris for Intranets. This lets you install a single Solaris server that will appear to the network as NetWare, AppleTalk, Windows NT, and OS/2 LAN Server simultaneously.
The good news is that you can replace any existing server with Solaris and get a faster, more stable and more scalable system without the endusers having to know that anything changed. The bad news is that you can't automatically migrate existing user databases or binderies to that server. Sun provides consulting services to make the transition for you, but that's not going to cut it with a lot of potential customers. In the end, Solaris could be more successful as an addition than a replacement for existing servers.
Then there are the improvements announced earlier. Solaris is going to be more 64-bit. (How much more, I have no idea.) And Sun is providing two-way fail-over clustering. Clustering of as many as 16 64-processor machines (1024 CPUs!) is scheduled for 1998.
All these improvements to Solaris are essential. The question is, is it enough? Solaris is still Unix - the OS that strikes fear and loathing into hearts of the PC generation.
So Sun is going after Windows NT - again. Sun has vainly tried to chip away at NT mind share since before NT shipped. Until now it has been a dismal marketing failure.
But don't laugh at this latest attempt just yet. The time for a secure, stable server OS is ripe, and Solaris for Intranets is becoming so PC-client friendly it may turn more than a few heads.