Sun Releases First Beta of Solaris 9

But feature-incomplete beta that is designed to give users a viewing of 'an early version of Solaris at the developer environment' will not have GNOME 2.0 as the desktop default.

The first beta of Sun Microsystems Inc.s upcoming Solaris 9 operating environment for network servers is now available for download from the companys Web site.

Users can download the Solaris 9 operating environment through Suns Early Access program.

But, contrary to previous expectations, GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) 2.0 will not be the desktop default for the software. While Sun has said in the past it hoped to have GNOME 2.0 as the default in Solaris 9, Bill Moffitt, the product line manager for core Solaris in Menlo Park, Calif., told eWEEK in an interview that differing product time frames meant that GNOME 2.0 would not be ready by the time Solaris 9 shipped in the first half of 2002.

"It is still our intention to make GNOME the desktop default going forward, and we will make it available as a download as soon as its available," Moffitt said. "But our product development timetables just dont line up at this point. So the Solaris Common Desktop Environment will remain the default, and GNOME will continue to be provided on the supplemental CD that ships with Solaris."

Moffitt also said the beta Solaris 9 code is feature-incomplete at this time and is designed to give users a viewing of "an early version of Solaris at the developer environment--both in-house and ISVs--to give them an idea of whats in Solaris as well as an opportunity to do some early application testing to ensure their apps continue to work under Solaris 9."

One of the main values Sun is trying to bring to its customer community is investment protection in their software so that things continue to work with this version of the software. While this is not a formal beta program, its been designed to give users a look at the upcoming features of Solaris 9, he said.

"We have a formal beta program going at the moment with 100 of our largest customers with whom weve been working over the past month on testing the software in their environments. We will be significantly expanding and updating both the update and beta programs early next year," Moffitt said.

More complete version in the works

A later version of Solaris 9 will be more complete, with many more features than have been integrated into the version available today, he said, adding that it will be more stable and have better performance.

The "unifying theme" of the new features offered in Solaris 9 will be "manageability--making it easier and less expensive to manage these systems from the affordable rack and stack boxes all the way to the new Sun Fire 15K server," Moffitt said. "Users will be able to unify all of those in a single management discipline using things like the Sun Management Center and give people better tools for managing large numbers of systems from one end to the other."

Sun is attempting to achieve this goal in a number of ways, ranging from increasing the scalability and performance of the core Solaris kernel so that it can address more memory to making better use of—and having more--threads, as well as offering better linearity across high processor counts. This, according to Moffitt, would decrease the amount of overhead per thread and make parallel applications run better.

"What that means is that applications that may have run out of parallelism at four or eight or 20 processors will potentially be able to do twice that much. Theyll be able to scale up to a much higher processor count, and that application will then be able to serve more customers or crunch through more data or do whatever it does," Moffitt said.

While these improvements would enable the applications Sun expects to see running on the Sun Fire Servers, Sun also made improvements as simple as allowing Solaris 9 to be installed in a secure way and allowing a minimal install for network-facing systems where just the basic components of Solaris are installed to increase both security and efficiency.

"The biggest cost our customers see in running these systems over a period of years is the management of the systems," he said. "Were seeing Internet data systems with thousands of systems all running at the same time. Our customers are looking for ways to manage those huge data centers without huge numbers of new systems administrators.

"Were enabling them to quickly and easily deploy software and provision systems and [giving them] the ability to fix errors as quickly as possible by increasing the instrumentation throughout Solaris and bringing that all to a central console that can be easily accessed from anywhere. Thats what the Sun Management Center does."

Windows users open to Solaris

Sun is not seeing a lot of users switching from Solaris to Windows because, according to Moffitt, Windows does not offer the "open architecture" that Solaris does and traps users on that platform. "But an increasing number of users with Windows server implementations are looking at Solaris to meet the scaling and manageability requirements that Windows cannot," he said.

Regarding the Linux threat, Moffitt said that because many users like Linux and are developing a range of applications for the platform, Sun is "trying to make Solaris as Linux- and open source-friendly as possible so that we can provide a good, well-supported, scalable platform for the deployment of Linux applications."

To accomplish this, Sun is putting a lot of the Linux APIs into Solaris. It also has Linux Abstract Device Interface compatibility on the Intel platform, so most Linux applications can be run on Solaris Intel as is and can be easily ported to Solaris on SPARC.

"Most open-source software has traditionally been ported to Solaris, and we include a lot of it on the distribution with Solaris," Moffitt said.

Sun is expecting several thousand to download the current version of the software initially, with that number increasing significantly as the beta process moves forward. "We have had some 1.5 million registered downloads of Solaris 8 at this point, and we expect that to be far higher after 9 is released," Moffitt said.