Hot skills: Sun's Unix OS takes on Linux with virtualisation
What is it?
Solaris is an operating system developed by Sun Microsystems. It was historically closed source, but most of the code base has now been made open source.
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Sun's open sourcing of products such as Java and the Solaris operating system has more to do with capturing expertise than sharing the benefits of free software. Play with the technology all you like, but as soon as you start to do anything serious with it, you will need to buy licences.
Instead of relying on community support, the latest downloadable "Express" version of Solaris for developers, based on the open source Opensolaris, comes with an optional support subscription.
The open source strategy provides a way for determined developers to gain experience of some highly paid skills, although to gain certification they will eventually need to take at least some expensive training courses.
Sun has been able to coexist with Microsoft, but Linux has competed with its core markets. Solaris still has some advantages as a mature, feature-rich industrial-strength operating system, but Linux is rapidly closing the gap.
Sun's answer is virtualisation technology that allows Linux applications to be run unchanged on Solaris 10, and also allows Windows applications to be run on the desktop or laptop as a thin client. Key Solaris features such as the Dynamic Tracing Framework can be used on Linux applications.
Sun also offers its own version of the Lamp (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl, Python or PHP) software bundle, with Solaris replacing Linux, but the primary open source database platform is Postgres, which has been more tightly integrated with each Solaris release.
Where did it originate?
Sun was founded in 1982. Solaris, based on the industry standard Unix System V Release 4, gradually took over from the proprietary Sun OS during the 1990s.
What's it for?
Solaris Express Developer Edition 9/07 (numbered by the date of its release) is based on Opensolaris. It is aimed at both mainstream Java and Web 2.0 developers.
It comes with the NetBeans 5.5 integrated development environment, Sun Studio 12 (with compilers for C, C++ and Fortran), the Glassfish open source application server, and Java Platform Standard Edition 6.0.
The graphical user interface and productivity software include a Gnome-based desktop with Mozilla Firefox and Sun's Staroffice implementation of Openoffice.
What makes it special?
The latest version of the Solaris Containers virtualisation technology enables Linux applications to run on x86 machines.
How difficult is it to master?
Developers can migrate their existing skills relatively easily, but systems administrators new to Unix will need to attend a minimum of three courses.
What systems does it run on?
Sun Sparc, Intel and AMD processors, including 64 bit x86 processors, using a common code base. IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell sell and support Solaris on their x86 systems.
What's coming up?
There are quarterly releases of the Solaris Express Developer Edition. The most recent upgrades to Solaris 10, including Solaris Containers for Linux applications and a performance boost to PostgreSQL, were released in August.
You can download Solaris Express Developer Edition online. Other downloads and details of training can be found from the Sun website.
There are also several community sites with free tutorials and code.
Rates of pay
Junior Solaris systems administrators can earn from £28,000, and senior administrators can expect £40,000-plus. Rates for developers with Solaris experience tend to be higher than for equivalent positions using Linux or Windows. Computer Weekly/SSL salary survey