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Sun to release Solaris for AMD's Opteron

Sun Microsystems' version of Unix will become the third mainstream operating system to take advantage of Advanced Micro Device's 64-bit Opteron chip, Sun software chief Jonathan Schwartz says.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems' Solaris will become the third mainstream operating system to take advantage of Advanced Micro Devices' 64-bit Opteron processor.

Solaris, Sun's version of Unix, already runs on 32-bit "x86" processors including AMD's Athlon and Intel's Xeon. But Sun also will release a version in 2004 that will take advantage of the 64-bit extensions that make Opteron different from those other chips, Sun software chief Jonathan Schwartz told reporters in a meeting here Thursday.

Sun made the decision because of the speed that software shows on Opteron, Schwartz said. "It is highly performant on the systems we've looked at now," he said.

A test version of Solaris for Opteron is scheduled to arrive in the first quarter of 2004, with the final version later in the year, Schwartz said.

SuSE Linux has a 64-bit version of Linux that runs on Opteron; Red Hat plans to release one this month; and Microsoft will release a version of Windows for the chip in 2004.

In addition, NetBSD and , two versions of the BSD variant of Unix, support Opteron's 64-bit features. A third, OpenBSD, plans support later, project leader Theo de Raadt said.

Running Solaris on Opteron will solidify the relationship between Sun and AMD, but won't change the big picture, said Enterprise Application Group analyst William Hurley.

"The movement is Linux, the platform is Intel. That's the direction we see things going," Hurley said. "I don't believe the 64-bit world is something we're going to see in the next 24 months."

Chips with 64-bit features are able to address vastly larger amounts of memory than 32-bit processors. Where Intel's Itanium uses dramatically different software than its Pentium or Xeon, AMD's Opteron and Athlon 64 are extensions that can easily run today's 32-bit software.

The difficulty in running older Pentium software on Itanium has made it harder for Intel to build an ecosystem of software for the new chip. Intel hopes to bridge the gap with software called the IA-32 Execution Layer that will let x86 software run on Itanium.

Software rising at Sun
Software is gaining in importance at Sun, which hopes to use to prop up server profit margins drastically eroded by reawakened IBM and by increasingly powerful Intel-based systems from companies such as Dell.

Profit margins are inherently better for software than hardware because once software is made, it can be sold over and over. "There's no cost of goods," Schwartz said.

Sun has tried for years to improve its software work, usually without much success. Its latest attempt is the Java Enterprise System, a broad collection of server software for which Sun charges a customer $100 per year per employee, and the Java Desktop System, desktop software for which Sun charges $50 per year per employee.

Sun has set up sales incentives that to push software aggressively.

As of July 1, "The software folks are making three to five times their hardware brethren on the same sale," Schwartz said, meaning that a software salesperson could earn the same commission on a $200,000 sale that a hardware salesperson would make on a $1 million sale.

In addition, 20 percent of sales managers' compensation is based on software sales, Schwartz added.

The Java Enterprise System also can tow along other revenue, including services, Schwartz said. The first priority will be offering customers help migrating from IBM WebSphere to the Sun software, and the second will be help switching from Microsoft Exchange, he said.

Sun vs. Merrill Lynch
Schwartz also criticized some of a last week, who advised among other things that Sun drop its Java Desktop System, code-named Mad Hatter, and its Java software.

Java is an inextricable part of Sun, as impossible to remove as Internet technologies, Schwartz said. And with Mad Hatter, Sun is getting ahead of "commoditization" trends that have hurt the company before as mainstream technology such as Intel processors eats into Sun's high-end market share.

"At $50 a desktop, we will commoditize the entire desktop," Schwartz said of the Mad Hatter initiative.

Sun's StarOffice software, a competitor to Microsoft Office, also is catching on, particularly with governments in Europe, he said. "We have two 20,000-unit StarOffice deployments this quarter," he said, though declining to name the customers.

And Schwartz had criticisms of his own for the analyst. "Mr. Milunovich is a fan of theatrics," Schwartz said, and he'd profit from hearing Sun's point of view in detail. "I wish he'd attend our analyst conferences."