Sun signs second Linux partnership

Sun Microsystems signs a deal to incorporate SuSE's version of the Linux operating system in its servers, the company's second step in moving beyond its own version of Linux.

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Sun Microsystems signed a deal Thursday to incorporate SuSE's version of the Linux operating system in its servers, the company's second step in moving beyond its own version of Linux.

The deal means customers buying Sun servers with Intel or AMD x86 processors will be able to choose SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 8 in the fall, said Ann Wettersten, vice president of systems software product marketing for Sun. Sun already sells its x86 servers with Red Hat Enterprise Linux. Linux software maker Red Hat is SuSE's biggest rival.

After years of selling its Solaris version of Unix, Sun bowed to market realities and in 2002 announced its support for Linux. Its first products used only Sun's own version of Linux, which lacked support from software companies. Sun has since been moving to more popular versions made by other companies.

Sun will provide customer support for the Linux product, with SuSE backing Sun up, Wettersten said. The companies wouldn't disclose financial terms of the deal.

As part of the deal, SuSE will get a license to the source code of Sun's Java Virtual Machine, software that lets programs written in the Java language run on any type of computer. SuSE already uses Java software, but the new license will help the company offer it across its entire SLES product suite. These products run on all four of IBM's server lines and on machines built around Intel's Itanium and Xeon processors and AMD's Opteron processor.

"It is very key to us to have a Java platform that we can adopt for our hardware architectures and the flexibility to optimize it for our needs," said Juergen Geck, SuSE's chief technology officer.

However, Sun's version of Java isn't enough, said Markus Rex, vice president of development for SuSE. The company also ships Java from IBM and the open-source Blackdown group. Software companies insist on having the different versions, Rex said.

Sun's main business is selling servers, but it hopes also to profit from Linux on desktop computers, a market that's growing more popular. The company plans to shed more light on its Mad Hatter desktop Linux plan at its SunNetwork conference in September, Wettersten said.

"We want a compelling alternative to Microsoft," Wettersten said, and a company like SuSE will provide the operating system.

"It is going to be standard Linux based," she said--"standard" meaning one of the two versions that's in widespread use, SuSE or Red Hat, and not Sun Linux. "Sun Linux has been announced for end of life," Wettersten added, meaning it will be phased out.

Asked if the SuSE deal announced Thursday extends to desktop Linux as well, Wettersten said the company so far has announced "the first step in a global alliance with SuSE. Stay tuned. We've got a lot of the Mad Hatter project deals coming out."

Linux has come under attack by SCO Group, the Unix intellectual property holder. SCO argues that Linux infringes its copyrights. The company has threatened legal action against companies using Linux if they don't buy a Unix license from SCO.

Sun doesn't indemnify its Linux customers from such possible legal action the way it does for Solaris, Wettersten said. Geck said SuSE believes the issue shouldn't affect Linux users in any case.

"It's not the customer that's really exposed, it's companies like ourselves, and we're going to deal with it," Geck said.