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Sun Offers Free Version Of Solaris, And Indemnification, Too

Hopes to attract new customers and expand developer base, in attempt to revive company's fortunes.
Sun Microsystems Monday introduced the latest version of its Solaris operating system, including a free version to attract interest among academics and software developers.

At an event in San Jose, Calif., Sun chairman and CEO Scott McNealy said the release, which he called the "most interesting" new technology from Sun in nine years, aims at technical "power users" inside companies. Indeed, Solaris 10, which will be available on Jan. 31, includes performance-boosting technology and other features designed to make the operating system more attractive than Microsoft's Windows, Unix operating systems from IBM and Hewlett-Packard, and versions of the open-source Linux operating system sold by Red Hat Inc.

But while the free "right to use" version of Solaris 10 for Sparc, x86, AMD64, and EM64T systems is fair game for commercial use, Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz said most companies would probably choose to pay for versions that include service and support. Sun will sell Solaris 10 basic, standard, and premium licenses that include various levels of technical support and training for $120 to $360 per CPU per year for computers with one to four CPUs. The company didn't disclose pricing for larger systems.

Throughout the day, Sun execs sought to position Solaris as a low-cost operating system that's a better choice than Red Hat Linux--the most popular version of Linux among corporate IT departments--for small computers. At the same time, Sun's technical investment--the company spent more than four years developing the new system--would provide its platform a longer shelf life than Unix operating systems from IBM and HP, they said. Solaris 10 includes performance-increasing technology called DTrace that the company says is giving test customers 20% increases in performance over older versions of Solaris. It also includes a new file system called ZFS, security technology taken from Sun's Trusted Solaris, which it sells to government accounts, and technology called Containers that could make servers easier to manage. Solaris 10 also includes the ability to run Linux applications with a small performance penalty, as a way to migrate apps from Linux to Solaris.

Sun also is offering its customers nontechnical incentives to buy its technology. McNealy said Sun will offer its customers indemnification against lawsuits arising from using its technology, a scenario that's increasingly on the minds of corporate software buyers. "You, too, may have a Kodak moment," McNealy said, referring to a $92 million payment Sun made to Eastman Kodak Co. last month to settle a patent infringement lawsuit over the Java programming language.

McNealy also said Sun and Microsoft next month plan to discuss the work they've completed since the companies reached a legal settlement in April and agreed to make their technology more interoperable. Next month, Sun chief technology officer Greg Papadopoulos and Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates will hold a conference call to disclose their joint work, and the companies may hold a media event during the first quarter, he said.