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Sun plans per-employee Orion pricing

Sun Microsystems is near a final decision on how to charge customers for Orion, its integrated collection of server software, with plans to link the price to the size of a company's staff.

SAN FRANCISCO--Sun Microsystems is near a final decision on how to charge customers for Orion, its integrated collection of server software, with plans to link the price to the size of a company's staff.

Pricing will be based on some auditable measurement. "We're not completely certain what, but it will be something related to the number of employees you have," said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun. Schwartz spoke here on Friday at a meeting with reporters, at which the company also confirmed plans to scrap its own version of Linux in favor of alliances with established Linux companies.

Orion, uncloaked in February, is Sun's project to simplify how server software is purchased, installed, integrated and updated. The single package consisting of all Sun's server software will be updated quarterly in one fell swoop.

The plan is a strong contrast to the current complexity, in which companies pay for various software packages according to various measurements, such as how many processors a database server has, how many username-password pairs must be recorded or how many terabytes of storage space a file system has.

Orion will not only be simpler than rival offerings, Schwarz said, it will be less expensive. "Hopefully it will put some pressure on our principal competitor to come up with a more palatable licensing model," Schwartz said, referring to Microsoft.

The first version of Orion will arrive later this year, said John Loiacono, vice president of Sun's operating platforms group. It won't include all of Sun's server software, but will include the primary components.

Customers who buy Orion will get the entire collection and won't have to pay for its individual components, Schwartz added. Sun emphasizes that its own components can be swapped out with a competing company's software--Novell directory software or BEA Systems' application server, for example.

Sun also hopes to make Orion a simpler foundation for business partners who base their own software on it. Sun is working with those companies to synchronize their plans with Sun's Orion "release train."

And to make it simpler for programmers to use the services that will be available through Orion, including the ability to run Java programs, Sun is reworking its developer tools.