Farewell to Solaris on Intel, hello to Lintel

Technology workers, despite their zeal for all things new, are prone to bouts of nostalgia.

Over the years, readers have confided in me their appreciation for the old System/3, or somesuch other minicomputer–punch cards and all. Once, at a software vendor’s hospitality suite during a conference,

an IT manager with a railway company reminisced about his passion for living-room sized computers. I daresay a tear rolled down his cheek into his lager as he recounted his days with a favourite early-model Himalaya.

And don’t get me started on operating systems. I’m continually amazed at how aficionados of Windows 3.1 or Commodore Basic come out of the woodwork at parties whenever old technology gets discussed.

The time has apparently come for yet another piece of IT history to move aside: Solaris for Intel.

News reports have covered Sun Microsystem Inc.‘s delayed upgrading of its flagship operating system from version 8 to 9 for Intel Corp. processors.

But according to one research firm, Sun will be offering its last upgrade for Solaris 8 on the Intel platform this quarter. Nothing’s official yet, but Sun has “”deferred the productization”” of the next release for Intel, which basically translates as its finale, says a report from Illuminata Inc., based in Nashua, N.H. Sun will reportedly offer Intel versions of Solaris 8 until 2004, with support available until 2009.

The document adds another chapter to the sometimes rocky relationship between Sun and Intel. In 2000, the two companies dropped a deal to bring Solaris to Intel’s 64-bit Itanium processor. In August, Intel CEO Craig Barrett compared Sun’s practice of designing and building its own software and chips for its servers to communism. Ouch.

Now, it appears the Solaris/Intel relationship is about to reach its end.

While I don’t expect to see commemorative T-shirts lamenting the fate of the Unix stalwart on what some would consider enemy turf, this little story offers us a few lessons.

First, analysts sometimes get things right. In September 1999, Gartner Group Inc. predicted trouble for the Sun-Intel partnership. In Solaris on Intel: Can Sun’s Ugly Duckling Become a Swan?, analysts claimed the platform’s relatively poor popularity threatened its potential to compete in the IA-64 market. Good call.

The move also provides Sun a renewed opportunity to get punchy with Microsoft Corp. Until recently, the company has been giving away Solaris for Intel, what Illuminata calls “”a weapon in the war against the great Windows hegemony in Redmond.”” But if no one wants your freebies, what can you do?

Switch ’em. Sun can now focus on improving Linux-based offerings for Intel platforms. As Illuminata puts it, “”Lintel is the natural Wintel alternative.”” The same company that made a ruckus giving away a free office suite may consider Linux for Intel chips as a new tool to fight Microsoft Corp.

It makes sense. Linux has both street-cred and burgeoning enterprise appeal as a flexible, stable (and popular) platform. It won’t bring Bill and Steve to their knees, but it lets Sun get out of a losing fight and start afresh.

johnsaunders@sympatico.ca

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