Sun Microsystems has launched its much anticipated Solaris 10, declaring the OS now free to download for commercial use, along with an aggressive services and support plan clearly devised to undercut Linux archrival Red Hat's pricing.
A cloud of confusion, however, remains around the relationship between Solaris and sibling rival Linux, and some commentators claim that Sun faces a difficult learning experience that HP and IBM have already gone through: how to speak about a multiplatform strategy without diminishing the value of either platform.
"Sun's relationship with Linux has been alternatively embracing it as the future but also treating it as a competitor to be fought at all costs," IDC analyst, Dan Kusnetzky, said. "The fact it has two different messages coming from two different sides of Sun leaves the impression that they don't really know what to do as a company."
With Solaris 10, Sun is looking to prove its OS is more scalable, performs better, is easier to manage, and costs less than Linux, according to executive vice-president of Sun's software group, John Loiacono.
"The big thing is that the OS matters again," Loiacono said.
In addition to Sun's own Sparc chip, Solaris 10 runs on Intel x86 chips, Xeon, Nocona, and AMD's Opteron processor.
"Solaris 10 will run your Linux applications unmodified, without recompiling, and within three to five per cent of native speed," Loiacono said.
The price of Solaris 10 would also be less than Red Hat or Suse, based on the service subscription contract, he said.
Through aggressive pricing on services and support, Sun is not only trying to undermine Red Hat but also pursuing the more lucrative path.
"The industry is moving toward a model where acquisition costs are holding flat or going down for OS bits, yet people still have to buy support.
Linux bits are arguably free, but you have to pay for support on an annual basis. That sounds an awful lot like a subscription from Microsoft," said one analyst who requested anonymity.
All the rhetoric about competing with Linux does not mean, however, that Sun is jumping off the Linux bandwagon.
"If you choose Linux, my entire middleware platform and desktop products run on Linux," Loiacono said. "If you want Linux, we'll support that, too."