SAN FRANCISCO—Sun Microsystems, Inc. on Wednesday announced “Project Mad Hatter,” its plan to essentially bring to market a Linux desktop that is tied to a server.
Sun executives also made clear that the goal of the offering, as with their ongoing plan to bundle components of the SunONE stack into the Solaris operating environment, is to drive server sales.
The new client desktop, which is expected to be widely available in the first quarter of next year, will bring together off-the-shelf hardware, such as its Sun Ray thin client as the interface or a standard low-end desktop PC and open-source technology—namely the Linux operating system, the Mozilla browser, OpenOffice, the Evolution e-mail client and the GNOME desktop environment.
But Sun executives would not give any details on pricing for the new offering or reveal which OEM would supply the non-Sun hardware component. “All the major PC OEMs are interested, but we are not going to add value to that component,” said Mark Tolliver, Suns chief strategy officer.
“All of the software is available today, but the integration of open-source software at the front-end is not as good as wed like, so were moving forward on that. You can expect to see a prototype out in iForce technology showrooms within 60 days and delivery following the sign-up of hardware partners and as the software develops,” he said.
Jonathan Schwartz, who heads Suns software group, said the five-year total for its solution was $296,040—versus more than a million dollars for a stand-alone PC solution.
Stacey Quandt, an analyst with Giga Information Group, Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif., expected the desktop offering to be based around a server. “Its most likely it will run on the recently released LX50 server, which runs both Solaris 9 and Suns Linux —whichever the customer chooses,” she said.
“This is a no-brainer for Sun, as its pretty much just packaging, bundling and pitching their existing products into a SunONE desktop offering,” she said.
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While its unlikely the initial market will be as broad as for Microsoft Corp.s Windows offering, there will be demand from within call centers, point-of-sale centers with transactional desktops and from those organizations using Web-based or dedicated applications or those who are not dependent on the basic scripts and macros in Microsoft Word and Office, she said.
During his keynote address here on Wednesday morning, Schwartz ran a demonstration of a typical corporate scenario for this desktop solution. A new employee was issued a Java Smartcard as his ID badge. This allowed him to log into a Sun Ray thin client at any cubicle or office in the building.
The employee would then be linked to a GNOME desktop environment, running the Evolution e-mail client—an alternative to Microsofts Outlook—and the StarOffice productivity suite. Whatever changes he made to the system would then follow him wherever he logged in.
“We are returning to our roots in providing lowest cost open-source file formats around the desktop infrastructure and on the server side. But it is not enough to do this on a Sun Ray machine, which has to be attached to the network,” he said.
Schwartz also gave a demonstration, using a PC supplied by an independent third-party hardware maker, for those customers that wanted to repurpose their existing hardware or buy new ones that had functionality when not attached to the network.
“Call centers, back-office, academic institutions are our target markets. Those industries and economies that are cost-sensitive are our target markets. If youre an OEM looking for choice, wed love to talk to you. For channel partners seeking value, come and talk to us,” he said.
In a media question-and-answer session later, Sun CEO, president and chairman Scott McNealy said the company was not targeting the general-purpose PC-user market. The target market was those businesses with a fixed-function environment.
Earlier in his keynote address, Schwartz said Sun had a history of being a disruptive technological force and a supporter of the open-source community, stressing that this very history was also one of customer choice.
The industry needs to have energy poured back into it as it recovers from the economic downturn, he said, while users want to save money, increase scale and bolster security.
“Solaris is industrys best operating environment and is Suns crown jewel. We know scale, in a way that is really profound. We are redoubling our commitment to Solaris and, at the same time, are going to bring scalability, security and innovation to our Linux initiatives,” he said.
There are clearly two environments at the moment: SunONE and Java or Windows and .Net. “The SunONE Web server and Apache dominate at the edge of the Net. The SunONE architecture is the Java architecture, and this is the architecture that drives our business,” he said.
Sun believes in one integrated developer platform that is both open and open source, and the companys committed to providing that, Schwartz said, committing the company to providing in the next 12 months the self-healing, clustering and failover technologies users currently get at the high end on its application server, Schwartz said.
Sun has also been aggressively driving Linux to just about every platform out there, he said, adding that the company is very familiar with the notion of free source. Sun is committed to driving the SunONE stack onto Linux and driving it more deeply into the Solaris operating environment.
In a survey conducted by Sun, 12 percent of IT users said they could afford to migrate to Windows XP, and many expected Microsofts Software Assurance licensing plan to cost them more, with 38 percent considering alternative products. It was those 38 percent of users that Sun would be targeting, Schwartz said.
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