Sun delays Solaris 9 for Intel chips

In the latest slight in a long and often edgy relationship between the two companies, Sun Microsystems bags the Intel version of its new OS, citing belt-tightening.

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Sun Microsystems on Tuesday delayed plans to release an Intel-compatible version of its forthcoming Solaris 9 operating system, the latest slight in a long and often edgy relationship between the two companies.

Sun had originally planned to release two configurations of the latest version of its Unix operating system: one for its own UltraSparc chips and one for 32-bit Intel Xeon and Pentium chips. But, said Sun executives, because of economic cutbacks, the company will only release Solaris for UltraSparc processors when the new OS ships later this year.

"We retain the option to do (Solaris on Intel) in the future," said Graham Lovell, Sun's director of Solaris product marketing. "But given where we are with the economy, we'd rather focus on our bottom line and make sure we spend our money wisely. We'd rather defer Solaris on Intel to a later date."

IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky said Sun's plans make sense; the company makes the brunt of its profits from Solaris on UltraSparc.

"Solaris on Intel is relatively a small part of Sun's overall business," Kusnetzky said. "It won't have a major impact on Sun's client base. There's not an awful lot of them using Intel."

By delaying Solaris 9 for Intel, Kusnetzky said, Sun saves money on testing and production costs.

Sun's announcement is the latest move by the company to de-emphasize its support for Intel chips. Relations between Sun and Intel have been frosty since early 2000 when the two companies broke off an alliance geared at bringing Solaris to Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor. Ultimately, the alliance would have given Sun a secondary source for processors and Intel industrywide support for its chip.

Each company blames the other for scrapping the deal, with Sun claiming that Intel abruptly terminated the agreement and Intel stating that Sun was never motivated to promote Intel's products.

"Sun makes the majority of their revenue from selling hardware, and it is proprietary hardware," Intel CEO Craig Barrett said in a recent interview. "We felt that their primary goal in life was to sell their own hardware and software combination. I don't think there was the basis for a strong relationship."

Sun in October released test versions of Solaris 9 for both chips. The company will release a newer, UltraSparc-only test version next week and make it available to customers who want early access to the new operating system, Lovell said. For those who still want Solaris on Intel, Sun will continue to ship Solaris 8 for Intel chips for about two more years, he added.

News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.