October 3, 2002 9:00 PM PDT

Sun to restore Intel support for Solaris

Sun Microsystems plans broader backing for a version of its Solaris operating system geared for Intel processors, the server maker plans to announce Friday.

The move will restore support for a software about which Sun had given at best lukewarm signals earlier this year. By charging money for the product and its support, Sun said it will ensure that it's a money-making prospect for the company.

Sun in January said it had "deferred productization" of the newest version of Solaris for Intel, a move many took to be the death knell for the product. Sun insisted it wasn't killing the product, and indeed the company announced that it would ship Solaris 9 for Sun's LX50 server and its successors.

But the fans of Solaris on Intel remained vocal, insisting that Sun support Solaris 9 more widely, as it has done with Solaris 8 and earlier versions. Now Sun has agreed to that demand--for a price.

Solaris 9 for Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors will no longer be free like Solaris 8. The software will cost $99 for single-processor desktop systems and an as-yet undetermined higher price for multiprocessor servers, said Graham Lovell, director of marketing for operating systems and availability for Sun.

The new version will arrive by January, with a $20 "early access" version that people can download to test.

Telephone and e-mail support, and product updates will cost $75 per month for desktop systems and $1,275 a year for lower-end servers, Lovell said. Service is optional, he added.

The vast bulk of Sun's business comes from selling servers running Solaris atop its own UltraSparc processors, but the company has long offered a version for Intel processors such as Pentium and Xeon, as well as other chips that use Intel's "x86" instruction set such as AMD's Athlon.

But the Solaris-x86 versions were always a second priority for Sun, which preferred to emphasize the benefits of UltraSparc servers carefully mated with computer hardware, an operating system and higher-level Sun software. Sun also had a cantankerous relationship with Intel, which supplies server chips to Sun's biggest competitors, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer.

Sun is relying on the community of Solaris-x86 users to help support the product. Lovell said the company will release the programming tools it uses to build the "driver" software that lets Solaris communicate with hardware such as network cards. Creating and supporting those drivers is a big part of the expense of supporting Solaris on a wide variety of servers, not just the limited number of models Sun sells.

The driver development software will be released as open-source software, Lovell said.


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