Solaris comes down from its high horse

Well, they did it. For months we've been hearing about Sun Microsystems' plans to open the source code of its flagship Solaris operating system. The company finally delivered the goods but will it be any better off?

Just five years ago, the idea that anyone but Sun's own engineers would be allowed access to Solaris internals seemed absurd. Back then, Sun was flying high. But not today, open source hit Sun like a ton of bricks.

Today, both the Oracle and IBM DB2 databases list Linux as their preferred platform. PeopleSoft runs on Linux. So does SAP. And Novell is using Linux as the basis of its entire suite of networking and identity management products -- a market Sun sorely covets.

All this must have Sun execs slapping their foreheads: "But Solaris is better!" And you know what? They're right. Pound for pound, there's probably more technical innovation in Solaris than any other Unix platform.

As the premier Unix vendor, Sun has long taken the attitude that Linux is nothing more than a hobbyist's clone of Unix. But what Sun failed to realize is that the rapid development pace of the Linux kernel meant that, sooner or later, Linux would inevitably leave the ranks of the amateurs and become a real competitor.

Sun's second mistake was in underestimating the appeal of a Unix OS that ran on Intel x86 processors. It's true that Sun servers are superior to commodity x86 hardware, but maybe not enough to justify their price tags.

OK, Sun fixed that mistake with Solaris x86 and it is price competitive.

And so, at last, Sun throws up its hands: "Fine. You want open source? Solaris is open source." And with that, away goes the last argument why anyone would choose Linux over Solaris -- at least in theory.

Unfortunately, in the time that it has taken Sun to figure things out, the tables have turned. To remain viable, it needs to grow its customer base. And this time, it's Solaris that needs to win over Linux customers, not the other way around.

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