Sun's Linux: Not dead after all

IDG News Service |  Operating Systems

Although Sun Microsystems Inc. discontinued sales several months ago of its customized Linux distribution, the company hasn't entirely abandoned its do-it-yourself Linux strategy: In its forthcoming bundle of desktop software, code-named Mad Hatter, the included Linux operating system will be Sun's own.

Sun, based in Santa Clara, California, decided in April to stop marketing its Sun Linux 5.0, saying customers hadn't shown interest in having another version of Linux available. Several weeks later, Sun partnered with leading Linux distributor Red Hat Inc., whose operating system software it now sells on its x86 server hardware.

Partnering with Linux vendors will remain Sun's server-side strategy, but on the desktop side, it will rely on its own distribution, Sun's Software Group Executive Vice President Jonathan Schwartz said Monday during a meeting with press in New York.

Sun's forthcoming Mad Hatter software bundle, now in beta testing, is a package of basic desktop applications comprised mainly of open-source components. It includes Sun's StarOffice productivity suite, the Mozilla Web browser, the Gnome (GNU Object Model Environment) desktop interface, and Ximian Inc.'s Evolution information management software.

Sun's planned split Linux strategy makes sense, since in many ways Linux on the server and Linux on the desktop are very different technologies, said Illuminata Inc. senior analyst Gordon Haff. In a software bundle such as Mad Hatter, the integration between applications is critical, and by controlling the operating system, Sun can better manage Mad Hatter's overall technical architecture, he said.

Originally slated for an August release, Mad Hatter is running slightly behind schedule and is now likely to debut in September or October, Schwartz said. Sun's target buyers for the bundle are cost-conscious businesses with large workforces that don't need high-end application functionality, such as call centers, retail outlets and bank branches. Sun's largest beta tester is supporting 4,000 workers on Mad Hatter, he said.

Mad Hatter will include all the basic functionality needed to equip a PC at a fraction of the cost businesses would otherwise spend licensing operating system and productivity software from Microsoft Corp., Schwartz said. Within three years, Sun hopes to sell 50 million Mad Hatter bundles, he said.

Sun anticipates pricing Mad Hatter at US$50-$100 per worker, per year, according to Schwartz. The final pricing will be announced at the company's mid-September SunNetwork conference, in San Francisco.

Also slated for announcement at SunNetwork is the pricing of Sun's Orion server software package.

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