In addition, Sun will make Solaris OS compatible with Linux, "so that customers can take advantage of the breadth of new Linux applications within the...Solaris environment," the company said in a statement. Solaris, a "flavor" of Unix, runs on Intel computers as well as Sun's own hardware.
The Palo Alto, California, company also said Sun resellers will offer computer systems with both Solaris and Linux.
Sun has worked with the Linux community to translate Linux to its UltraSparc platform since joining Linux International in May 1998. However, the effort to bring Linux to the UltraSparc architecture has been going on for years.
UltraLinux, based in the Czech Republic, has been working since 1995 on a version of Linux for UltraSparc machines, preparing a distribution called UltraPenguin. Separately, Red Hat has been distributing a Sparc version of Linux as part of its Variety Pack.
Sun said a list of download sites for the UltraSparc version of Linux would be posted on its Web site, but the list hadn't been posted as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Palo Alto company positioned the move as victory for Unix systems, even though Linux competes with Solaris.
"By promoting user choice of Unix operating systems on the UltraSparc architecture, Sun further demonstrates its commitment to open standards and encourages the expansion of the overall Unix market," said Ken Okin, vice president and general manager of workstation products at Sun.
Sun's positioning of Linux as a Unix helper rather than a Solaris competitor is significant in light of Linux' growing popularity.
Microsoft executives have said Linux competes more with Unix systems than with Windows NT. "From a purely competitive point of view, the interaction between Linux and other Unixes is likely to be more of an inflection point than Windows NT," Edmund Muth, enterprise marketing group manager at Microsoft, previously told CNET News.com.
Linux is likely to appeal to "people already invested technologically and emotionally in the Unix camp," he predicted.
But analysts have said Linux is competing more with Windows NT as Linux makes its way into low-end servers in the business sector.
Sun's move to support Linux is one of several announcements today that are likely to please advocates of the ?open source? software design model, in which the original code of programs is available to anyone who wants to improve it. Open source programming has helped to harness global programming efforts across the Internet, vaulting Linux from one programmer's new kernel to an operating system used by millions.
Also today, Sun announced that it's making it easier for others to modify Sun's Java code. Before, Sun made source code available to noncommercial users for the Java Runtime Environment, technology that allows a computer to run Java programs. Now Sun will allow commercial companies to use and modify the source code for free, and will allow anyone to modify the source code without requiring that the innovation be handed over to Sun.
"We are sharing our source code with companies and individuals committed to compatible implementations of the Java platform," said Alan Baratz, Sun's chief operating officer, in a prepared statement.
Tim O'Reilly, president and chief executive officer of O'Reilly and Associates and one of the industry's most outspoken advocates of the open source model, praised Sun's decision. "Java is one of the key technologies for the future of computing, with its support for networked, smart devices. Open source Java will bring us that future much faster, and with more interesting surprises," O'Reilly said.
"One of the most powerful things about open source is that it pulls itself into niches. [For example] Someone [may have] a very specific problem to solve, which doesn't seem to matter to anyone else, but eventually goes on to become very important. For a new technology like Java, letting the user community extend it to meet specialized needs expands the boundaries at which innovation can occur," O'Reilly added.
Praise for the open source model can be found in unexpected quarters, too. Microsoft engineer Vinod Valloppillil, in the leaked "Halloween" memos, pointed to the advantages of open source development and suggested that Microsoft's closed system of software development has drawbacks.