Sun Feels Heat Over x86

Users push for decision on Solaris 9 for Intel as company weighs options.

Disgruntled Solaris users are pushing Sun Microsystems Inc. to decide on the fate of the operating environment on Intel Corp. processors.

Sun officials in Palo Alto, Calif., have been going back and forth with the Solaris Intel user base since January, when the company said Version 9 for the x86 architecture was being "deferred" in favor of projects that were more profitable.

Now the process seems stuck, and users are getting restless, according to sources familiar with the negotiations between the user community and Anil Gadre, Suns vice president of Solaris software.

"[Gadre] told us that while he appreciated the passion we were showing for the product, Sun was still weighing whether to, and how to, productize Solaris 9 for Intel," said a member of the Solaris Intel community, who requested anonymity. "He promised another internal summit between us to discuss all this again, but its been weeks, and a date still hasnt been set."

Intel officials have said demand for Solaris on Intel was low, but Alan DuBoff, president of Software Orchestration Inc., in San Jose, Calif., said about 1.5 million copies of Solaris 8 on Intel have been downloaded or given away. A Sun spokesman said more than a million licenses for Solaris 8 on Intel are registered.

After Sun announced in January that it was deferring development of Solaris 9 on Intel, it agreed to meet a group of disgruntled users to discuss a compromise. Sun later announced support for Linux on low-end Intel servers, a move that further upset users, who said Sun appeared to be restricting Solaris to its high-end hardware.

Sources who attended a February meeting between the parties said the users suggested a number of strategies to boost Suns Solaris x86 business.

Those included charging a license fee or increasing the fee for the media kit to around $100, promoting the product at university bookstores and through retail channels, packaging Solaris x86 with an x86 desktop/ server to boost low-end sales, releasing more Sun products on the x86 platform, and leveraging the community better. Users also suggested Sun release an unsupported version of Solaris 9.

Sun said it would evaluate the proposals, work with the community and open the partial source code to select community members, sources said. Both sides agreed to meet again, but nothing happened until just before Sun released Solaris 9 last month, when Gadre told users that Sun was still considering the matter, sources said.

"Some alternatives are simply not practical, like releasing a completely unsupported version of the product," Gadre told eWeek. "We are looking at what our real support obligation will be ... and how to make money from it."

Graham Lovell, a Solaris director at Sun, said the decision could lie anywhere from a less-supported version of the product to sales through retail. "But no final decision has been made on any of this," Lovell said.

"We love the product," said Ed Zander, Suns outgoing president and chief operating officer, adding that if users wanted to form a company or approach a company such as Intel, Dell Computer Corp. or IBM to get involved, he would welcome it. "We think its a great product, but we just dont sell general-purpose Intel machines," he said.

Users said Sun is grappling with political rather than technical issues around Solaris on Intel. "Their kernel is light-years ahead of Linux. No other company has as much experience in the 64-bit computing environment," said Bruce Riddle, an IT consultant at Agere Systems Inc., in Allentown, Pa., and a community member.

Others are concerned that Suns strategy will cripple efforts to develop Solaris 10 on Intel. "Since they have Solaris 8 now, and 9 doesnt do that much more, Solaris 10 will be getting all the work from now on," Software Orchestrations DuBoff said. "And if Sun was to stop Solaris x86 10, that would be a sign that the end is near. But that has not happened yet."

Suns Lovell said efforts are ongoing to make a Solaris 10 on Intel possible. "We are doing no harm right now; there is no ripping out of code," he said.

Related story:

  • Solaris Users: No Rush to 9