Sun stands aside in rush to Linux

While Sun Microsystems has been slugging it out on a variety of fronts with rivals Hewlett Packard Co. and IBM, one fight the company seems content to stay out of for the moment seems to be Linux. Unlike its rivals, which have been pushing Linux aggressively across their entire product lines, Sun executives see Linux largely as a lower-end phenomenon that is not quite ready for the data-center yet.

Industry analysts and others who suggest otherwise are plain wrong, Sun CEO Scott McNealy said at a news conference in San Francisco yesterday at which the company unveiled a flurry of new products and services.

"They just don't get it. That's all right, they haven't for 21 years," McNealy said. "Right now, HP and IBM are reading the analyst reports and saying Linux is going to happen and they're abandoning their Unix customers."

McNealy's comments coincided with the release of several new products and services from Sun (see story), including an Intel Corp.-processor-based blade server running Linux. That product is the sole general-purpose Linux server the company has released to date.

Sun also remains on track with its enterprise desktop initiative, code-named Mad Hatter, under which the company will deliver preconfigured desktop bundles running Linux with Sun's StarOffice and other open-source office productivity software. The first products from that effort should become available later this year.

For the moment at least, demand for Linux remains limited to such edge-of-the-network, first-tier systems, said Patricia Sueltz, executive vice president of Sun Services.

"But we never say never to anything," said Sueltz. If demand for Linux starts materializing at the higher-end, Sun will be willing to support it as well. "What I see happening to Linux today is what happened to Unix in the 1990s," she said referring to the Unix adoption curve in enterprises.

Sun's strategy of supporting Linux only at the low-end comes at a time when the open-source operating system is gaining increasing acceptance for edge-of-the-network applications, including firewalls and caching.

"Sun is agreeing that Linux use is very prevalent in a number of customer sites," for such applications, said Jean Bozman, an analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC. But it's still "early days" when it comes to the adoption of Linux for running higher-end business applications, Bozman said.

As a result, Sun's approach has been to continue pushing Solaris for all but the lower-end, she said.

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