No Love Lost in the Enterprise OS Fight

Who has the best enterprise operating system? That depends on who you talk to. IBM, Red Hat and Sun are taking the gloves off and maneuvering for x86 desktops.

Forget reality television. The real action is starting to play itself out in the enterprise operating system arena. The players in question are IBM, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems.

What drew my attention to the drama were some executive comments at the recent LinuxWorld rollout of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4. Paul Cormier, executive vice president of engineering, kept giving examples of Red Hat wins over Sun Microsystems.

Now, relations between Sun and Red Hat grew strained last year when Sun took some potshots at Red Hats "proprietary" Linux. Still, the companies are partners, and I really didnt expect this squabble to keep going and going.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Sun President Jonathan Schwartzs arguments that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is proprietary.

Wrong. This flap has legs.

In a briefing with, Tom Goguen, Suns VP of operating platforms, chided the Red Hat exec.

"Sun used to be of many minds about operating systems. The worst thing we ever did was to fight about it in public. I think that Red Hat needs to learn not to fight quite so publicly. Customers dont like that," Goguen said.

At the same time he pointed to advantages of Solaris and said the final word has yet to be written about Linux.

"If you asked Linus [Torvalds], hed tell you that there are lots of things to be done with the operating system," he said.

Many of those new things will play out on the x86 platform, Goguen said.

"Sun has never gotten a big low-end business. Now were going into that business. Solaris on x86 is out there was because our customers wanted it," Goguen continued.

This direction drew IBM into the verbal fray.

According to Scott Handy, IBM VP of worldwide Linux strategy, a white paper coming out from the Robert Francis Group shows that Linux is cheaper than Solaris and that "theres no room [in the market] for a third, high-volume x86 operating system."

Handy predicted that Suns Solaris plans "wont play out the way they think they will."

"We see customers—especially Wall Street ones— moving from Solaris to Linux on blade servers all the time. Were refreshing our porting guides from Solaris to Linux because of the demand."

According to Handy, these financial customers are concerned about ISV support for Solaris and Suns price points.

"Sun got in cheap with SPARC before, and once Sun was dominant, the discounts went away. Customers dont want to see that again."

Now, Goguens response to that charge was that the "re-emergence of Sun on Intel, the free distribution of Solaris 10, value-added support plans, and the open-source model will help build a larger community around Solaris."

Of course, that plan presumes Sun can open-source the Unix heart of Solaris. Goguen not only insists that Sun is going to do it, he offered a few more details about how Sun will accomplish this goal.

First, Goguen said that in the next quarter, Sun will release the actual Solaris kernel.

Before this, Sun had never given such a hard date for when this most critical part of the operating system would be released.

Now, many open-source programmers have problems with Open Solaris being released under the CDDL (Common Development and Distribution License). But, the CDDL, agree or disagree with it, is an official, open-source license.

/zimages/2/28571.gifTo read more about Sun using the CDDL for its Open Solaris project, click here.

That said, its clear to me that Sun is betting everything that Solaris can develop an open-source community, keep its old Solaris SPARC customers and win new ones for Solaris on x86.

So it looks as if in 2005 were in for another corporate operating system fight. Instead of Sun vs. Microsoft, its going to be Sun vs. IBM and Red Hat.

It will be played on the battlefield of Solaris on x86 vs. Linux. Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been working and writing about technology and business since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.

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