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Sun adds Fujitsu in Unix push

Sun convinces the Asian systems giant to offer its Solaris "flavor" of Unix on both 32-bit and upcoming 64-bit Intel-based systems.

With Santa Cruz Operation squarely in its sights, Sun Microsystems (SUNW) will later today add another partner to push its own Unix derivative for systems based on Intel chips.

Sun has convinced Asian systems giant Fujitsu to offer its Solaris "flavor" of Unix operating system software on both 32-bit and upcoming 64-bit Intel-based systems. The move follows the announcement last summer of a similar deal with NCR.

The latest partnership underscores drastic changes in the Unix operating system market. A few systems companies are lining up partners at a furious pace to retain viability as players with minimal market share choose to drop out of Unix development. Despite the consolidation, Unix-based software remains a fragmented industry, in some respects.

Earlier this week, Tandem Computers, a Compaq subsidiary, announced plans to use Digital Equipment's 64-bit Unix OS for various high-end markets. Digital also recently signed up Sequent Computer Systems. SCO has signed up various Intel-based systems players to sell its operating system.

Sun remains the largest player in the Unix server OS market on systems running RISC (reduced instruction set computing) chips. But the firm has articulated a strategy to expand that foothold and challenge SCO in the Unix-on-Intel space, hoping to offer a low-end alternative to the fast-growing Windows NT Server operating system from Microsoft.

SCO retains a substantial lead in shipments of the server-based Unix-on-Intel operating system market, according to market researcher International Data Corporation. In preliminary figures, it scored about 40 percent of the market for 1997, compared with 3.5 percent for Sun's Solaris-on-Intel offering.

Fujitsu has pledged to sell and support Solaris versions targeting both 32-bit and 64-bit applications and focus sales on the Japanese and Asian markets. Fujitsu will also develop enhancements for Solaris. The 64-bit feature essentially allows larger chunks of data to be crunched locally and represents the next step in Intel-based computing technology.

For some, the wave of partnerships in the Unix industry is interesting at a tactical level but misses the larger question. "What would be good for the Unix industry is for the Unix industry to keep growing," noted Jean Bozman, analyst with IDC.

The Amdahl arm of Fujitsu will also commit to selling 64-bit versions of Solaris for Intel's next-generation Merced line of processors, expected to debut next year, as well as continuing to resell Solaris on RISC-based systems from Sun.

Initial shipments from Fujitsu are expected in the second half of this year. Enhancements to the Solaris platform provided by Fujitsu will appear in the first half of next year.

Fujitsu and Sun have a long-standing relationship. Fujitsu has helped to manufacture Sun's Sparc line of RISC-based chips and resold Sun workstations.