Scott McNealy, chief executive of Sun, announced the move last week at the launch of Sun One Application Server 7, based on Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) version 1.3.
The server will form an integral part of the Solaris 9 operating system, where it was an option previously, but versions for Windows, Linux, HP-UX, AIX and Solaris will also be made available as a free download from Sun's Web site.
Sun's application server currently lies behind IBM and BEA Systems and is more or less level with Oracle, according to analysts. Sun hopes to boost take-up by offering the free platform.
Steve Elliott, Sun One's application server UK product manager, said, "This offers a zero cost of entry. It costs nothing to try it out. In the past people trying to get into J2EE platforms have had to take an all-or-nothing approach because most application servers take the 'kitchen sink' approach. This means there are a lot of features people don't want to run. We are offering a small footprint, fast system."
Although Elliott stressed that the basic platform is suitable for large corporations, he said that lowering the cost of implementation would allow smaller organisations to enter the Java Web services market. Although the platform is free, users will still have to pay if they want service and support
Sun is also bundling Sun One Directory Server, Sunscreen Firewall and Solaris 9 Resource Manager with Solaris which users may choose whether to deploy.
To back up the platform offer, Sun is also releasing a new developer platform to allow the building of integrated Web services based on Java, Soap, UDDI, WSDL and Java Connector APIs. The developer platform will be available by the end of this year and the price per developer seat will be $5,000 (£3,335).
Application Server 7 will also be available in Standard and Enterprise editions for $2,000 and $10,000 per CPU respectively. The Enterprise version will appear early next year but the Solaris and Windows versions of the platform editions will be available in September with Linux, HP-UX and AIX versions by the end of the year.