Sun Microsystems Inc. is adding another Linux piece to its overall product line, but dont confuse that with a strong endorsement for the open-source operating system.
"We dont offer Linux computers; we offer solutions," said Scott McNealy, Suns chairman, president and CEO, in an interview following the announcement of Suns desktop initiative, Project Mad Hatter, at the Sun Network conference here last week.
"The goal is to ask the customer what problem they want solved," McNealy said. "Customers shouldnt be writing to Solaris or Windows or Linux; they should be writing to the Sun ONE [Open Net Environment]. Linux is a component of this. Thats the big picture."
Suns goal for the new, 32-bit Linux workstation, due in the first quarter of next year, is to use it to drive sales of server products running Suns bread and butter, Solaris on SPARC. And officials made clear that Sun will never run Linux on high-end SPARC systems.
"Why would we? Thats not what customers want," said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Suns software group, in an interview at the Sun Network event. "Our customers want Solaris at that level."
Schwartz criticized plans by IBM to introduce pSeries servers that run Linux natively, marking the first time IBMs proprietary AIX 5L Unix would not be required to run its top-of-the-line servers. "IBM is abandoning AIX and [hurting] its customer base," he said.
A company spokeswoman in Somers, N.Y., said IBM supports many operating systems but Linux is the fastest-growing. "We are absolutely committed to AIX and have no plans to abandon this powerful operating system. But we are now offering customers the choice of Linux or AIX or both systems on our pSeries servers," she said.
While Linux is great for set-top boxes, edge servers, vending machines, cellular handsets and personal digital assistants, it isnt going to run in the data center for a long time, Schwartz said. "You need 64-bit support; you need terabyte file systems. IBM says the open-source community will tackle that. I dont think so. Somebodys got to build that," Schwartz said. "[Linus Torvalds] is prioritizing uniprocessor performance. Period. Linux is an x86 phenomenon. It takes advantage of industry economics, and you take off-the-shelf components and build Linux blades and run Java and XML application services on them."
McNealy said Linuxs niche is "a very nice, low-cost 32-bit environment for us Im happy to use. But if I can come up with something free and better, Ill use that to run Sun ONE."
McNealy also said that its Linux workstation offers a "very compelling, if limited, market opportunity today." The target market is "limited use" environments such as call centers, academic institutions, the banking industry, retail and government, he said.
But potential customers may not be biting. The U.S. Coast Guard is unlikely to switch from its current locked-down Windows XP desktop with a roaming profile, said an IT manager, who requested anonymity.
"The only possibility of a migration to a Linux environment is for us to realize a tremendous cost savings versus maintaining the Microsoft [Corp.] licensing for 50,000 users and hundreds of servers," he said. "But the cost of migrating and overcoming the inertia to change, once invested in a particular architecture, remain issues."
Scott Gates, a programmer in the information services division of Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, in Ashland, Ky., said that while Suns Linux desktop could work, it would have to be seamless and totally reliable.
"But, at present, the decision makers have determined Windows 2000 is a viable solution," Gates said. "If our vendors begin delivering Linux-based applications on servers, yes. But as a general desktop solution, not while the sun rises every day. If Sun creates a market, it wont be long until Microsoft comes with bulldozers to level their own playing field."