TORONTO — According to one Sun Microsystems Inc. manager, the company’s endorsement of Linux marks a trade-off for its customers.

On the one hand, Linux is an industry standard, which helps customers from becoming locked into one

vendor. But on the other hand, Linux is a relative newcomer to the enterprise market and doesn’t support a wealth of applications yet.

Peter ffoulkes, Sun’s strategy group manager for volume systems products, was in Toronto Thursday to map out the company’s Linux strategy and tout its 32-bit LX50 Linux server. The product was introduced in August by Sun CEO Scott McNealy

The Linux trade-off is worth it to companies whose needs don’t exceed 32-bit computing and are prepared to carefully work with solutions providers to determine what Linux applications are available and when, he said.

But questions from the audience of developers and industry professionals ranged from: Will Sun make its distribution of Linux available as a standalone product, and how will Sun support Linux?

According to ffoulkes, Sun Linux will not be made publicly available — at least in a shrink-wrapped package — for support reasons. The nature of the open source beast is that software is available on a variety of hardware platforms, but that makes it notoriously difficult to support, said ffoulkes. “”People do not necessarily want to become systems integrators themselves,”” he argued. “”Sometimes you get finger-pointing”” between Linux distributors and hardware manufacturers as to where a systems flaw occurs.

By selling the LX50 as a combined software and hardware package, Sun aims to avoid these types of issues. “”Whether that’s the right thing to do, we’re not sure,”” said ffoulkes. “”But what we don’t want to do is lose the ability to support our customers.””

What Sun may lose is the faith of the open source community, said IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky, who argued that the company has a track record of good intentions poorly executed. “”Sun is basically saying to these people, ‘We are not going to make our supported software available to you. You will have to buy a machine to get this software.’ That . . . will upset the people who were otherwise loyal Sun buyers,”” he said.

Where Sun may also have misstepped is by introducing yet another distribution of Linux. IDC currently tracks more than 140 flavours. “”Sun is coming along, expecting to get a lot of support from the very same community than is saying, ‘Enough, we don’t need another distribution,'”” said Kusnetzky.

Sun’s Linux approach may achieve mixed results, but ffoulkes is certain that the introduction of a 32-bit server is a solid bet for the company. “”The world going 64-bit didn’t come to pass,”” said ffoulkes. He argued that 70 per cent of processing work is still achieved on 32-bit platforms. Price-prohibitive 64-bit computing was deemed unfeasible by some Sun customers, he said, and 32-bit will get the job done, particularly if you buy multiple servers and cluster them.

Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. is making price point an issue for its customers by offering six configurations of LX50 servers at 25 per cent off. The holiday pricing of $3,500 will be available until Dec. 24.

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