Sun Revisiting Solaris 9 on Intel Decision

Taken aback by the vehemence with which users met its recent decision to defer the release of Solaris 9 on the Intel platform, Sun will meet with customers and developers to try to reach a compromise.

Sun Microsystems Inc., taken aback by the vehemence with which users met its recent decision to defer indefinitely the release of its upcoming Solaris 9 operating environment for network servers on the Intel platform, will meet a group of customers and developers who use Solaris on Intel to try to work out a compromise.

Graham Lovell, a Solaris director at Sun in Palo Alto, Calif., told eWEEK late Monday that the companys decision is not irreversible. "While the initial decision [not to ship Solaris 9 on Intel] was made purely from a business perspective, if the business metrics change we can reverse this. Theres absolutely no technical reason why we couldnt do this; its purely a set of business reasons," he said.

This shift in stance comes just a week after Lovell told eWEEK that Sun would defer the production of a Solaris 9 Intel version "as we have decided to focus more tightly on projects that have the greatest impact on Suns bottom line."

"The SPARC version of Solaris is used with our hardware and therefore generates revenue, while the Intel version focused primarily on enthusiasts and others who ran Solaris on PCs and laptops," he said last week.

While the Intel marketplace would continue to have access to Solaris 8, Sun felt that in todays industry environment it was prudent to defer Solaris 9 and beyond on Intel for some time in the future, he said at that time.

That decision was not well-received by users like Dave Eriqat, a software developer for Syntel Design in San Francisco who has many years experience developing on the Unix platform

"They appear to be essentially withdrawing from a market they have supported for so long -- and which has supported them. This also reduces the number of operating systems available to me and other developers as I will now have to choose pretty much just between Windows and Linux," he said.

Sun had also gained significant exposure and some market share by allowing Solaris to be used on the Intel architecture as an affordable workstation rather than with the very expensive Sun hardware.

"I found that Solaris on Intel outperformed Windows 2000 on the networking and Internet side. However, Suns latest decision leaves me little choice but to use Linux going forward," Eriqat said of the first decision. But he welcomed Suns commitment to now meet with users with a view to perhaps changing its stance.

Suns Lovell this week admitted that Sun was "met with a higher level of passion for Solaris on Intel than we first envisaged. There are a lot of people who are very concerned about the future of Solaris and the fact that we will be delaying Solaris 9 for the Intel platform," he said.

There had been a lot of criticism and negative comments about the move on the longstanding Solaris-on-Intel Internet newsgroup, so Lovell contacted several members of that newsgroup who were sending out messages.

"What I detected was that they truly didnt understand the range of issues that we have to deal with when making a decision of this nature. Equally, they were coming up with ideas that had the potential for being breakaway concepts and ones that we perhaps wouldnt normally consider.

"So there seemed to be reason for us to get into a room with members of the community to truly understand what it is theyd like us to do and educate them on the reasons behind our decision," Lovell said.

Anil Gadre, a vice president and general manager for Solaris at Sun, will to meet a representative group of some six users to discuss these issues. He will likely be joined by Solaris executives from areas such as engineering and marketing, he said.

There were some 30 core people who were most active about the Solaris on Intel platform in the newsgroup, Lovell said, and so he had asked them to select six to represent the community.

Sun will likely meet with those six over the next few weeks, he said, declining to elaborate on which companies and organizations those six might represent.

Sun will, at that time, detail the areas of investment it would need to make to produce Solaris 9 for Intel and "hopefully have them come back and say how they could help in those areas. Some of them have been telling us they can help with the qualification of hardware with independent hardware vendors working on device drivers and the like. That would lower our costs fairly significantly, too," Lovell said.

Some users also said they are prepared to pay as much as $100 a copy for the software, Lovell said.

Sun has already explored a number of scenarios on paper that the company has come to realize will not work, he said, but "these users could come up with some breakaway strategies that could work for us. Then we have the potential to change the decision."

While sticking to his comments last week that there are only a "small handful" of capabilities in Solaris 9 that users on the Intel platform would miss by not getting early access to it, Lovell said what users view as critical is the lack of commitment to providing the product and a release date for Solaris 9 on Intel.

"We are committed to listening to them and understanding how we might meet their needs. Its just really tough right now given the current economic situation," he said.