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Sun to drop its customized Linux

The computing giant will phase out its customized Sun Linux and move instead to partnerships with Red Hat and other mainstream Linux companies, executives say.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems will phase out its customized Sun Linux and move instead to partnerships with Red Hat and other mainstream Linux companies, executives said Friday.

The move, as first reported by CNET News.com, will let Sun join with a much larger group of software business partners and will bring the company's Linux strategy into closer alignment with the strategies of its major server competitors, IBM, Dell Computer and Hewlett-Packard.

But Sun's Linux strategy has two major differences compared with the approaches of its rivals. First, it's bundling its Orion collection of server software along with its Linux servers. Second, it's got a version of Unix for Intel-based servers, and customers will be able to run their Linux programs unchanged on those systems as well.

"We will not be supporting the customized version of Sun Linux. We'll be moving to standardized distributions of Linux," said John Loiacono, vice president of Sun's operating platforms group, in a meeting with reporters here. The change will take place as soon as possible, he said--"way before the end of the year."

Sun is in talks with the top Linux companies, Loiacono said, saying Red Hat and SuSE are the "logical partners" and listing MandrakeSoft and Debian as other candidates.

"We're not going to pick a single vendor," Loiacono said.

Details of how the outside Linux products will be integrated into the Sun server and software products aren't yet clear, but one possibility would be using a label such as Sun Linux Red Hat Edition, Loiacono said.

The move could indicate a measure of detente between Sun and Linux companies such as Red Hat, which up to now have invested more energy squabbling with each other than allying themselves against their common foe, Microsoft.

Linux executives such as Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik have been peeved about Sun's assertions that Linux is suited only for low-end servers. And Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's executive vice president for software, said Friday that he's not happy when Szulik remarks that "the road to Redmond is through Mountain View," meaning that displacing Sun's Unix systems is the first step to taking on Microsoft.

SuSE, whose version of Linux is the foundation for the four-company UnitedLinux consortium, responded warmly to Sun's move. The company earlier confirmed that it's in talks with Sun.

"We think it's great that Sun has decided to support more standardized Linux platforms," ones with better support from hardware and software companies, said Holger Dyroff, general manager for SuSE's Americas division, in a statement. A SuSE partnership would help Sun take advantage of that direction.

Red Hat declined to comment for this story. However, in February, the company indicated Sun won't have an easy time forming an alliance. "We don't see why we should get any cozier with them," said Mark De Visser, Red Hat's vice president of marketing.

Existing Linux alliances haven't moved at lightning speed, though, Giga Information Group analyst Stacey Quandt said.

"It took IBM about a year to get an agreement between IBM Global Services and Red Hat. I can see why it is taking Sun so long," Quandt said.

Linux, along with Solaris, is a foundation for Sun's Orion plan, under which the company's entire collection of server software will be updated in a single quarterly change. IBM has many software products that compete with Orion components, but Dell and Hewlett-Packard rely on outside software companies.

Among the first Orion components to be integrated with Linux are Sun's application server, identity server, portal server, messaging server, directory server and clustering software, Loiacono said.

Sun also will work to ensure that Linux programs run on the version of its Solaris operating system for "x86" processors such as Intel's Xeon and Pentium or AMD's Opteron and Athlon. At a minimum, Solaris will comply with the Linux Standard Base, which specifies a minimum set of required software components to run Linux software, Schwartz said.

But Sun has grander ambitions for the Intel version of Solaris, Schwarz said. The company's plan is to make that Solaris version compatible with software certified to run on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the more expensive premium version that comes with assurances that older software will run on newer versions.