The announcement this month by Sun regarding its intentions to sell Linux-based servers and other products seemed pretty shocking at the time, given that to Sun and many of its followers, the only Unix worth its weight is Solaris.
But looking back over the past weeks and months, its clear that the writing was on the wall for Sun to embrace Linux more wholeheartedly. As a result, Suns decision will benefit not only its bottom line but also its customers and the Linux community and enterprise users. Heres why:
• Sun has already "deferred" future development of Solaris for Intel hardware, a combination that some Unix aficionados call not so affectionately "Slowlaris." Sun can concentrate on developing Solaris 9 and above for its own SPARC chip architecture, focusing it on delivering high levels of server performance and reliability.
• Sun has been hurting, and it wasnt going to make a lot of money pushing proprietary equipment for low-end jobs. Linux can be used on relatively low-cost Intel boxes for departmental, Web and so-called edge servers.
• Suns efforts offer a more united front against Microsoft, whose rallying cry is the only good Unix is a dead Unix. As Suns Ed Zander said, new customer wins from Solaris and Linux will be made at the expense of Windows. (Zander also said Sun is targeting IBM, but they are in the same boat, as IBM, an active Linux backer, is spending billions on Linux.)
• If theres a problem that has always plagued the Unix and Linux (a strong cousin, Sun says) family, it has been a lack of unity. The original Unix fragmented, leaving many tribes scattered around the globe. Linux gives that family a chance to become more unified, even if it does cost Sun some Solaris deployments. IBM, HP and Compaq also are adding Linux to their lineups alongside their own Unix.
• Despite this optimism, Linux is threatened by the fragmentation too, especially on the application front, if vendors and developers dont work together. The Free Standards Group is helping with the Linux Standards Base, and if Sun follows through in its promise to get more involved in Linux, its influence will further that cause. The fewer Unix derivatives out there, the better it will be for application vendors and enterprise customers.
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