Sun Microsystems Inc. on Thursday announced an expansion of its Linux strategy in an effort to offer a more robust alternative to the NT platform.

“”The opportunity here is to bring together the two communities that aren’t Microsoft communities,

and that is Solaris and Linux. This is really more about Microsoft than anything else,”” said Sun president and COO Ed Zander. “”This is about offering a better, more cost-effective alternative to NT.””

Among the announcements made were a promise to ship a full version of the Linux operating system and a commitment to ship Linux on Sun’s Cobalt appliances and on an upcoming series of low-end single and multi-processing x86-based servers.

Sun also said it will offer the entire Sun One infrastructure software suite on the Linux platform and promised to offer native support of Linux on SPARC systems for the telecommunications and embedded markets. As well, Sun will make available a Linux compatibility assurance tool (LinCAT).

Sun said it will support Linux on its StorEdge storage systems and software and promised a set of support and professional services for its Linux products. Finally, Sun said the GNOME Linux environment will become the primary Solaris desktop with the arrival of GNOME 2 later this year.

Zander said the announcements were meant to clear up what he called confusion surrounding Sun’s Linux strategy and that the new product would become available in the coming months. He declined to give release-date or pricing specifics.

Rather than replacing Sun’s Solaris OS, Zander said the company’s pro-Linux strategy will actually increase the market for Solaris and SPARC chips because of the compatibility between the OSs.

“”I think this endorses Solaris,”” he said, adding that Solaris is realizing a fair amount of success in the low-end market. “”We sell SPARC Solaris at $995 (US). I bet you we make more money than Dell does on their boxes.””

Speaking from a Sun analyst conference in San Francisco, Zander repeatedly stressed the company’s involvement with Linux is not new.

“”I don’t know how many times I have to say this, maybe it’s too early in the morning. We have been shipping for 12 months a Cobalt family of Linux-based appliances,”” he said, adding that several software offerings, including the iPlanet directory and Web servers and the StarOffice productivity suite, are already Linux-compatible.

But Alan Freedman, research director for services and storage for IDC Canada, said the announcements mark a shift for Sun.

“”It’s strange because Sun’s message has been single platform: one processor architecture and one operating system. That’s no longer going to be the case, “” Freedman said, noting that Sun has in the past been critical of IBM Corp., Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett Packard Co. for not insisting on the same level of consistency. “”It’s a bit hypocritical of Sun.””

Zander argued Sun’s Linux strategy is still more refined than IBM’s approach, despite IBM’s branding efforts.

“”I think there’s a big difference between what we’re doing today and IBM’s complex, convoluted strategy,”” he said. “”I love going against IBM right now with Solaris versus their mainframes with this Linux push because you’ve got the best operating system in Solaris.””

Zander added that perhaps Sun should make a better effort to advertise the 100,000 Linux-ready Cobalt boxes the company has already shipped.

Freedman gave a halfhearted endorsement to Sun’s expanded Linux strategy. Though Zander said Sun customers see it as an evolution of Sun, Freedman suggested Sun’s customer base was actually quite happy with the single platform approach.

“”It makes sense if you look at customer choice and availability now. Sun’s trying to position themselves as a one-stop shop,”” Freedman said of Thursday’s announcements. “”But I don’t know if that’s really what the Sun customers are asking for.””

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