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Solaris: Sun's answer to NT

Hoping to capitalize on specialized market needs, Sun Microsystems is going forward with plans to customize its Solaris operating system.

Sun Microsystems (SUNW) is abandoning its "one size fits all" strategy and moving forward with plans to customize its Solaris operating system for particular markets.

The new focus will result in Solaris versions for intranet workgroups, Internet service providers, corporate enterprises, and heavy-duty desktops.

Now Sun wants to address vertical markets with extensions to the operating system tailored to specific needs, according to Rich Green, vice president of Solaris products. "We found that each of these four markets [workgroups, enterprises, ISPs, power desktops] have different requirements," he said.

The company will start moving toward this goal in August with the shipment of Solaris 2.6, an enhanced version that now includes a Web server, support for WebNFS (network file system), and performance tuning that markedly improves the platform's benchmark statistics.

The efforts come as rival Microsoft touts its flagship Windows NT Server operating system as a general-purpose platform, capable of handling file and print services, applications, and Web serving. Microsoft has branched out in recent weeks, announcing plans to offer an enterprise edition of the operating system.

Analysts say that since operating system choices are increasingly related to application support and performance. That means that even slight performance enhancements could turn into greater sales.

"I think Sun's move is a great idea. It will make Solaris more competitive in workgroup and department level markets," said Tom Kucharvy, President of the Summit Strategies. "But, to be successful, it will have to establish a position on Wintel platforms. This has been a big problem for Sun."

Sun offers a version of Solaris for customers using Intel-based server machines.

Sun announced the new directions for Solaris just two months after a software confab at Sun headquarters. At the briefing, Sun executives hinted that Solaris will evolve into a 64-bit Java-based platform by next year as part a road map code-named Millennium. A more modular approach to the operating system allows Sun to offer specific markets, such as ISPs, new enhancements faster.

Sun, taking a similar tack as other makers of Unix-based platforms, will take its operating system to 64 bits, a technology that will eventually will mean quicker response times for large processes and database queries. Solaris 2.6 advances on the 64-bit goal with support for larger file sizes included as part of the upgrade. Current versions of Solaris support 32-bit applications.

In response to Microsoft's recent scalability marketing blitz, Solaris 2.6 will also feature support for several thousands of users, support for 64-way SMP (symmetric multiprocessing) machines, and support for NFS failover and Solstice HA 1.3, the latest version of Sun's clustering scheme.

By next year, Sun executives claim enterprises and ISPs will be able to string together 16 64-way server systems in a cluster as part of Sun's Full Moon clustering push.

The power desktop feature set for Solaris will be released by July. Features tailored to corporate enterprises and intranet workgroups are being readied for the second half of the year and an ISP version is scheduled to roll out next year.

The company also introduced a subscription pricing scheme that gives users access to updates for a two-year period. Through the end of the month, a Solaris server will be priced at $695 with no user license fees.