Sun Microsystems has unveiled version 10 of its Solaris operating system with a pricing plan aimed at making it more competitive in the x86 server segment dominated by Windows and Linux.

Customers will be able to use Solaris 10 without cost on x86 processor-based servers from Intel and AMD,

Sun said, paying an annual subscription fee of less than US$500 per processor for support and bug fixes only. Canadian pricing was not available at press time.

Key features introduced in Solaris 10 include DTrace, technology that allows customers to view code in production to see what’s happening at the kernel level. The OS will also support 64-bit x86 processors, including AMD’s Opteron and Intel’s Xeon. Project Janus, meanwhile, will run Linux binaries such as Red Hat natively, without recompilation. Solaris Zones will run multiple isolated environments in the same system.

San Jose, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems has been widely expected for months to unveil details of an open source licensing plan for Solaris 10, but the company’s chief executive Scott McNealy recently indicated the final details were still being worked out. In the meantime, the company hopes its pricing strategy will eat into the market share of Red Hat, which has successfully been selling its enterprise Linux distribution into the x86 market.

During a recent visit to Toronto, McNealy said Sun already allows customers to see much of the Solaris code, making an open source licensing plan largely a marketing exercise. “”If you don’t realize it’s a stunt, it’s a great stunt,”” he said. “”Sun could hardly be more open.””

Scalar Decisions, a Toronto consulting firm, said Solaris 10 would likely be featured in the solutions it develops in its recently-launched Optimization Practice.

The company is trying to create ways to help enterprises move off expensive legacy technology and into the 64-bit computing world by building off architectures using AMD’s Opteron processor-based systems — which work off the x86 instruction set — and using a number of operating systems.

“”I think Sun, partly with this Solaris 10 launch, is trying to win back some of the initial 50 per cent that are saying Linux is their strategy as opposed to Unix. From our perspective, it doesn’t matter,”” said Paul Kerr, Scalar Decision’s president. “”Where does your application run the best? The best is cheapest, fastest and goes down the least.””

Others aren’t so sure. Dan Kusnetzky, an operating system analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass., said Red Hat has seen success with Linux in the x86 space mainly due to its relationships with developers. Sun, despite creating a world class OS with Solaris, has by its statements and actions confused the open source industry, he said.

“”Sun has not built that community around its products. Sun has, if anything, through its statements and actions, made many in that community upset,”” he said. “”Merely throwing something over the wall doesn’t necessarily mean a community will form around it.””

McNealy insisted that developers would “”love”” Sun’s approach to Solaris and that his executive team was working to bring a licensing plan to market. “”There are more religions around community development and how it should be done,”” he said.

Kerr said that while some of his customers have installed Linux in non-mission-critical production environments, most of them say they don’t want to deal with the challenges around open source.

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