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In a keynote address at this week's LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco, Sun chairman and chief executive officer Scott McNealy is expected to detail the company's plans to release Linux versions of its entire Sun Open Network Environment application software stack.
The company also announced plans to release an Intel version of its Solaris 9 Unix operating system, only a few months after it said it was discontinuing Solaris on Intel.
Sun said the LinuxWorld announcements would build on a Sun strategy first outlined in February to sell low-end Intel-based Linux and Solaris servers aimed at so-called edge applications such as Web caching, firewalls and streaming media.
Bill Roth, a Sun product manager, said the two-processor LX50 Intel server being introduced this week would complement the company's existing Cobalt line of specialty Linux servers.
"The market has evolved to a point where it is attractive for us to enter it," Roth said. "Linux on Intel-based hardware is working in areas where Solaris isn't playing, especially around the edge of the network."
The initiative marks a significant departure from Sun's long-held Solaris-only stance. Analysts said the open-source movement could be starting to hurt the company at the low end.
Tony Iams, an analyst at DH Brown Associates, said, "This was a necessary but not sufficient step for Sun."
By limiting its Linux offering to the low end, Sun is clearly going after the market where Linux has made the most inroads so far, according to Iams. In terms of enterprise Linux, Iams said Sun trailed well behind rivals - most notably IBM - in offering commercial, enterprise-level Linux support.
Joyce Becknell, an analyst at The Sageza Group, said Sun might also be sending a somewhat mixed message about its commitment to open standards by choosing to go with a Sun-branded version of the Linux operating system.
Graham Lowell, a Sun director defended the company's decision to use its own branded version of Linux.
"Rather than pass along a standard version unmodified, we fixed a few bugs and optimised it for our servers," he said.
The tweaks will allow for better performance and support of Sun's Linux servers, he added.