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Sun Hopes Solaris Hasn't Missed The Open-Source Boat

Most Sun Microsystems customers aren't going to start tinkering with the code in Solaris, even though the company on Tuesday published the operating system as an open-source project. But the move might still help Sun keep its flagship operating system relevant if it can speed development beyond what Sun can provide, and even give it some much-needed cachet.

Sun called Tuesday "opening day" for its OpenSolaris project, publishing the operating-system kernel, system libraries, and commands for its Solaris 10 operating system. It also launched a Web site,, where users and developers can download code, discuss the project, and access a bug database.

The move will be good news for customers if it brings growing developer support for Solaris and an expanding the number of applications that run on the operating system. "This allows us to get into new markets or back into markets where we've lost traction over the past few years," Glenn Weinberg, Sun's VP of software engineering, said Tuesday at the OpenSolaris launch press conference.

This aggressive attitude appears to be just what Sun needs after spending the past few years losing data-center market share and mindshare to hardware competitors such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM and operating-system competitors such as Red Hat and SuSE Linux. "If the world is more receptive to OpenSolaris, maybe that swings the pendulum in favor of Solaris," says Steven Rubinow, chief technology officer for Archipelago Holdings Inc., an electronic stock-exchange company that's in the midst of a merger with the New York Stock Exchange. Since 2002, Archipelago has run Solaris on about 100 production, testing, and quality-assurance servers. Many of these servers run the company's trading system, as well as a business-intelligence and analytics application from SAS Institute Inc.

But the question lingers whether Sun is too late to stay in the race with the open-source Linux operating system. Large companies have for years run Linux on x86-based servers to get the look and feel of Unix while using cheaper hardware. Solaris 10, introduced in November, is tuned to run on x86 microprocessors, a capability that Sun was late to prioritize, causing the company to lose ground to Linux. In fact, Archipelago implemented a number of Linux servers before the availability of Solaris 10. "We could run Solaris 10 on the same servers we run Linux on today," he says. "Solaris 10 was not generally available at the time, so we went with a product that was already known in the marketplace." Archipelago runs Solaris 10 on a number of servers in its testing environment and plans to roll them out to the production environment once the company's IT staff has enough experience with the operating system.

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