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Sun's Solaris 10 to run Linux apps, too

Project Janus intercepts a program's communications with Linux and translates them into communications with Solaris.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems will build software into its forthcoming Solaris 10 version of Unix to run Linux applications unchanged.

The software, called Project Janus, will work on servers using x86 chips such as Intel's Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron, said Ann Wettersten, Sun's vice president of systems software product marketing. She spoke at a panel discussion held at its offices here in conjunction with the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

The software works by intercepting a program's communications with Linux and translating them into communications with Solaris.

But that won't necessarily translate into a big shift of users from Linux to Solaris, said D.H. Brown analyst Tony Iams. "I don't see it opening up a new wave of users. It smoothes the path for those already considering a move to Solaris."

Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's former top software executive and now its chief operating officer, said he believes the Solaris-Linux technology will prove compelling to customers who want alternatives to Red Hat Linux, the dominant version of the open-source software and the one with the most compatibility certifications from software companies.

"In the data center," Schwartz said, "your Linux vendor just tripled their price. You cannot move. Your application is not certified to Debian," a Linux variant that hasn't achieved mainstream commercial success. Solaris provides that escape hatch, he said.

The technology is the latest move in Sun's hot-and-cold relationship with Linux. The company for years shunned Linux in favor of Solaris but, in 2002, accepted the open-source operating system into its fold. These days, Sun sells Linux but has an aggressive program to spread Solaris widely.

The Janus performance penalty of about 5 percent will be offset by the ability to use Solaris features such as N1 Grid Containers to run multiple operating systems on a single computer or Dtrace to find software bottlenecks, Wettersten said.

To start with, Janus will provide 100 percent compatibility with Red Hat Enterprise Linux and even complicated programs such as Oracle's database or BEA Systems' Web server, said Jack O'Brien, a group manager of x86 operating system marketing at Sun. Sun also plans to make compatibility with Novell's SuSE Linux later in an early update.

Sun wouldn't quite guarantee that Janus will run all Linux applications. "What Sun is saying is if it works in the Red Hat 3.0 environment, and you run that on Janus and something is not working correctly, Sun will fix it," Wettersten said.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based server maker plans to take a page from the Linux playbook later by releasing Solaris as open-source software. Sun will reveal details of the plan this fall, Wettersten said.

The open-source Solaris strategy is risky, Iams said. "Software intellectual property is a critical element of Sun's success. You're playing a very risky game by doing that," he said, though it does fit in with Sun's powerful urge "to make sure Solaris remains relevant."

Sun plans to release Solaris 10 by the end of the year. Sun is demonstrating Janus at LinuxWorld this week.